Heiva in Tahiti

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We leave our last atoll in the Tuamotus around 18h00, exiting Fakarava’s north pass at slack tide. The wind is light from behind at 10-15 kts, almost 180 degrees, and we fly the spinnaker the entire time, day and night, for two nights and two days.

We approach Tahiti on the third evening – a massive mountain rising from the ocean surrounded by a reef. We drop anchor in the first possible bay just behind the eastern corner- Tautira Bay or Cook’s Anchorage, renamed after Captain Cook, who landed here during his voyage. One other yacht arrives in the dark after us. There are no other boats. We spend the night here, in the calm of the bay, after two nights of sailing. Early the next morning we continue all the way to the west side of the island and at noon we arrive in Papeete – the largest port and heavily populated capital of French Polynesia.

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Tahiti is the biggest of the Society Islands archipelago with land area over 1000 square kilometers, where more than half of all French Polynesians live. The island was part of the independent Kingdom of Tahiti until its annexation by France in 1880, when it was proclaimed a colony of France, and the inhabitants became French citizens. French is the only official language although the Tahitian language (Reo Tahiti) is widely spoken, as in all other islands of French Polynesia.

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It’s full with sailing yachts- some huge super mega yachts- and we have two options- either go to the downtown Marina Papeete, where most of our friends are- right at the heart of the big capital city with all the shops and restaurants and the beautiful seaside park, or drop anchor for free further- much further- near Marina Taina- one of two anchorages near Papeete. We choose the free option, even though we have to hitchhike every time we go to Papeete. At least hitchhiking is great on the island, as everywhere in French Polynesia, and we never have to wait for more than 5-10 minutes for some super friendly local to pick us up. Also, the biggest and cheapest Carrefour shopping mall is within walking distance from our anchorage and cruisers are welcome to push their shopping carts all the way to the dinghy docks- an employee picks up the empty shopping carts stacked at the docks every day.

It’s great being on land again. After the low-lying coral atolls where the highest natural landmark is a coconut palm it’s nice to find mountains, forests, and rivers again. We put on our hiking boots and together with our friends from catamaran Runaway – Reinhart, Claudia and Launce start for the Fautaua valley and falls. First we hitchhike- six people separated in two groups. Reinhart is a blond German guy- very blond- and cars stop for him even before he sticks his thumb up, I don’t know why. So their group gets picked up first and 2 and half minutes later- our group gets picked up too, even though none of us is blond…

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Thank you for giving us a lift!

We get to a place in the city, where we pay for a permit to enter the trail for the waterfalls, and from there we hitchhike again to the actual trailhead, where no one wants to see our tickets…

We walk for a couple of hours through the lush jungle along the river, on a path covered with large red flowers, surrounded by massive trees. Tahiti is not just the largest, but also the highest French Polynesian island born as a volcano. Its highest peak is Mont Orohena at 2,241 m (7,352 ft).

We reach a river-crossing and then another one with a small pond at which point the group splits in two and some of us (the girls) return to wait for the others (the guys) near the gate, thinking that we have reached the falls. Turns out the falls are much further and the guys who continued actually saw them. Thanks to Launce, Ivo has some really nice pictures at the falls, and we have some nice photos from the hike too, where the entire family is present for a change. Thanks Launce!

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We spend a few weeks in Tahiti, shopping and stocking much needed products (good old forgotten Shopping, we missed you!), we visit the Museum of Pearls, the big market, and many of the sporting events taking place during the month-long Heiva festival each July.

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More than just a festival, Heiva has become the symbol of Polynesian culture and ancestral tradition. An iconic event for a people proud of their heritage and a showcase for traditional music, dance, sports and games.

The traditional sporting events are based on ancient athletic activities and include:

A stone lifting competition, during which very big Polynesian men lift heavy boulders up to 175kg. They have to be able to lift the rocks on their shoulders and hold them for a few seconds. The one who can lift the boulder for the fastest time wins.

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A fruit carrying competition- groups of women and men compete running for two kilometers carrying on their shoulders up to 50 kg of fruits attached at the end of a long wooden stick. The fastest runner wins.

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A javelin- throwing event- teams throw long arrows at a coconut on a long pole and try to hit it. Each arrow has color ribbons indicating its owner. At the end, the arrows are being counted and the team with most arrows stuck in the coconut wins.

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A copra competition- the tradition of breaking coconuts and making copra has been turned into a great competition during Heiva. Each team or individual has to break exactly 50 coconuts, to take out the meat from the shell and put it in bags. The fastest one wins.

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Climbing the coconut palm competition- this one is obvious- the fastest one up the coconut palm wins! This years’ record- 3 seconds!

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But the most important and magnificent part of the Heiva festival are the dancing shows featuring a war dance reminiscent of the Maori haka, and a way to revive the past and forgotten traditions.

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Music, choreography, and costumes are based on historical or legendary themes and are uniquely created for each Heiva, prepared for months in advance by the dancers. Each dance tells a story with many parts, in which the rhythm and costumes change a few times. The stories are legends about gods and volcanoes, ocean storms and sharks; or historical events like clashes and wars, or the arrival of the Europeans, and their influence on the islanders- the things they brought with them, the new fabrics used for sails, the new religion- all this can be featured in the story of each dance.

Heiva brings together thousands of Polynesians from all the islands of all five archipelagos, here to compete in the sporting events, dancing and beauty pageants.

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The main event is the dancing shows at Toata Square in Papeete- every night for many days dancing groups from the islands perform and compete for the first prize. Tourists from all over the world arrive to watch the most beautiful and sexy of dances performed by hundreds of dancers and musicians. Photographing and filming is not permitted; eating or drinking during the show is also forbidden and the rules are strictly enforced by the organizers of the event.

We buy tickets for the last night- to watch the winners and best groups perform- together with our friends from catamarans Invictus and Mercredi Soir.

The show is truly impressive. Groups of close to one hundred exotic dancers – beautiful young women with long dark curly hairs dressed in grass skirts and flowers in their hairs, and young energetic guys in colorful miniskirts perform in perfect harmony to the sound of powerful drums and wild rhythms. Ivo, Tobi and Gilles, as well as 14-year-old Tom, are very pleased to see the beautiful semi-naked Polynesian girls shake their hips with impressive grace and skill, like palm trees during a storm. In fact, the Polynesian dances are so sexy, they were once outlawed.

The pre-European Polynesian culture was an oral culture where stories, legends and knowledge were transmitted from one generation to the next by the ‘orero- storytellers, singers and dancers of great artistic talent and impeccable memory. The traditional rites and exotic dances reflected an isolated “sexually liberated” culture where the social constructs of the “civilized world” didn’t apply.

In the beginning of the 19th century, the first British puritan missionaries arrived and were shocked. They declared the dances, music and costumes “morally questionable pagan activities”, even “vulgar” and inducing “debauchery”. When the local king Pomare II converted to Christianity, he forbade dancing. For many years it became a marginalized and clandestine activity but the Polynesian people never stopped doing it “illegally” and kept the tradition though the ages, even though they did suffer a great loss of culture. Not until 1956 Polynesian dancing and music, costumes and traditions were once again legally celebrated. Today, Heiva is a way to revive the past and forgotten traditions.

Other than the restricted and expensive dancing performances at Toata Square in Papeete (but worth it), of which we have no photos or videos, there is the free-admission two-day event at the Museum of Tahiti, which happened to be much closer to our anchorage than to downtown Papeete. The museum’s backyard bordered by the sea covers large grounds with beautiful gardens, many big ancient tiki statues made of stone and wood, as well as a few vast lawns, perfect for dancing and sport competitions. The public consists mainly of locals and not so many tourists, sitting on the lawn. The atmosphere is chill and authentic. There are food stands selling local delicacies, ice cream and souvenirs. The weather is perfect, sunny and warm, no wind on the lee side of the island. The whole event resembles a massive pick nick or a fair. Here, we are welcome to film and photograph all the activities in day light. Spectacular, powerful, unforgettable.

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heiva

Watch our 20-minute video Heiva- Celebrating Polynesian Culture featuring the world’s sexiest dance, once outlawed by the European missionaries for being too erotic!

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The Wall of Sharks and Coconut Crabs in Tuamotus

Maya scuba diving with sharks

Maya scuba diving with sharks

We exit the Makemo atoll through the north pass at slack tide and sail to Tahanea overnight together with our friends S/V Mercredi Soir and S/V Invictus.

Tahanea and Fakarava atolls

Tahanea and Fakarava atolls

Arriving in the dark, we heave-to for a few hours in front of the pass waiting for daylight and for slack tide- the only safe time to enter any atoll. The biggest problem is finding out when exactly is slack tide, as the information we have from different sources doesn’t match.

Arriving at dawn

Arriving at dawn

We enter Tahanea successfully in the early morning with just one knot of current against us. It’s very stressful every time.

Rainbow over Tahanea

Rainbow over Tahanea

Once inside the atoll, the lagoon is calm and beautiful. The small uninhabited islands near the southeast corner are waiting for us.

Invictus, Mercredi Soir and Fata Morgana at anchor in Tahanea

Invictus, Mercredi Soir and Fata Morgana at anchor in Tahanea

Another boat family aboard catamaran Moby is here to join our group and now we are four families with eight kids in total, ages from four to fourteen, speaking English, French and German.

On the beach in Tahanea

On the beach in Tahanea

The men decide to provide the food for tonight- they are off spearfishing in the lagoon, while the women are preparing salads and side dishes. We are planning a big bonfire on the beach.

Sunset in Tahanea

Sunset in Tahanea

Bonfire on the beach

Bonfire on the beach

Besides the pile of tasty groupers Ivo, Tobi and Gilles speared in the lagoon, the guys also promised coconut crabs for dinner. They say that you can find coconut crabs- the world’s finest delicacy- at night in the bush on the small motus.

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Sunset, the fire going, we split in two hunting parties armed with flashlights and a machete. Off we go searching for coconut crabs. Operation “Ambush in The Bush”.

The Coconut Crab

No luck. Coconut crabs might be the largest of all land crabs in the world reaching giant proportions, growing up to one meter and weighing up to 4 kilograms, yet, they proved to be rather hard to locate and capture. After a few minutes of searching, our group with Ivo in the lead raises false alarm. Tobi starts:

“Wow, it’s huge, Ivo don’t kill it!” (But there is no coconut crab.)

The rest of our group quickly joins in:

“Wow, it’s big! We got a coconut crab and it’s massive!”- everyone is screaming, wonderstruck by the humongous (imaginary) creature.

The second group, with Gilles in the lead, are somewhere on the other side of the motu but can hear our excitement. Anxious to see our “catch” they rush towards us, running through the forest of coconut palms and jumping over the low bushes in the dark. By the time they arrive, we are all laughing.

“Were is the crab?”- Tom is asking.

“There is no crab”- I am laughing.

“But where is the crab?”- it takes a while for Team Two to realize- they have been pranked.

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At this moment, Ivo spots a strange creature skillfully crawling up a rotting tree. It looks like an armored extraterrestrial the size of a small dog- blue, with long antennae, massive claws with human-like teeth on the edges, three pair of legs divided in sections and another pair of legs with smaller tweezers-like claws- the mighty coconut crab!

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This time no one believes that Ivo actually found a real coconut crab, and even after we saw it with our own eyes, the reaction is much milder than the previous one.

Coconut crabs have the most powerful claws capable of cutting not only through the hard shells of coconuts, but also through wooden crates, buckets and metal enclosures of all kinds. Easily, he could cut through flesh and bones too. So picking up and transporting a coconut crab is a dangerous task.

Luckily, the crab grabs onto Ivo’s machete and won’t let go, holding fast, letting us bring him to the fire.

Maya holding the coconut crab

Maya holding the coconut crab

It’s Red Carpet time and everyone is taking pictures of the celebrity.

“How are we going to kill him and how are we going to cook him?”

After a short debate, we release the captive back in his forest, where “his family and babies are waiting for him”.

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We let him go free for three main reasons:

  1. We grew fond of the crab and no one wanted to kill him. We named him George.
  2. We thought he might be the last one of his species on Earth and we didn’t want to be responsible of his extinction.
  3. But mostly, we didn’t have a big enough pot to boil him in, and even if we did, one crab, no matter how huge, wouldn’t feed 16 people…
The kids and the coconut crab

The kids and the coconut crab

Read more about coconut crabs 10 Ginormous Facts About Coconut Crabs

Fakarava

Next stop- Fakarava- the second biggest atoll in French Polynesia, located some 245 NM northeast of Tahiti, 60km long, 21km wide, with 16km² of emerged land and a 1121km² lagoon.

We sail carefully through the narrow south pass and drop anchor in one of Tuamotus’ most popular atolls.

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Here, another French catamaran S/V QuatrA joins us and we are now 5 families with 10 kids playing on the beach, organizing dinners and epic parties.

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But we are here for one main reason- sharks.

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The Wall of Sharks

We have been seeing more and more sharks since we are sailing in the atolls of Tuamotu, but in Fakarava they are famous. Here is one of the best places on the planet to see and swim with sharks.

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The Tamotus are atolls. An atoll is a string of low-lying coral islands and reefs in the shape of a necklace, enclosing a shallow blue lagoon, with water between the islands called passes- some navigable, some not. Here, because of the strong tidal currents bringing nutrients inside the lagoon from the ocean, the amount of fish is incredible. The passes are as colorful, decorated by corals, and as populated by marine life as a shopping mall at Christmas time, making for the most spectacular drift-diving ever.

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Thanks to our friends in Colombia- Cata and Sebastian @DeepCoral, Ivo and Maya got their PADI diving certificate and diving equipment, ready to dive the famous Wall of Sharks in Fakarava’s south pass.

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Every summer a spectacular event takes place here – thousands of groupers gather to spawn attracting hundreds of sharks: grey reef sharks, black tips, white tips, lemon sharks and many other species of sharks gather to feed in the nutrient rich current of the pass.

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Thanks to this abundance of underwater life, Fakarava has been classified as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

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There is a dive shop near the pass, for organized guided dives, but if you have your equipment you can go diving anytime, unaccompanied, as many time as you want, for free, without a guide. Which is exactly what Ivo, Maya and our friends form Invictus and Mercredi Soir decide to do- freelance drift-diving with hundreds of hungry sharks!

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Sharks are known as the sea’s ultimate predators and bloodthirsty killing machines. So finding yourself surrounded by all kinds of sharks in overwhelming numbers is a scary surreal experience, impossible to imagine, impossible to believe.

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Maya with sharks

But the sharks’ reputation of killing and eating people at first sight is greatly overrated. They prefer fish. You don’t believe me? Here is what Ocean Service NOAA has to say on the subject:

“Only about a dozen of the more than 300 species of sharks have been involved in attacks on humans. Sharks evolved millions of years before humans existed and therefore humans are not part of their normal diets. Sharks are opportunistic feeders, but most sharks primarily feed on smaller fish and invertebrates. Some of the larger shark species prey on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals.

Sharks have been known to attack humans when they are confused or curious. If a shark sees a human splashing in the water, it may try to investigate, leading to an accidental attack. Still, sharks have more to fear from humans than we do of them. Humans hunt sharks for their meat, internal organs, and skin in order to make products such as shark fin soup, lubricants, and leather.

Sharks are a valuable part of marine ecosystems, but overfishing threatens some shark populations. NOAA Fisheries conducts research on shark habitats, migratory patterns, and population change in order to understand how to best protect and maintain a stable shark population.”  (Read @ Do sharks eat people?)

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The sharks in Fakarava, once hunted for shark fin, have always been friendly and are today protected. There haven’t been accidents, except during the night dives- when the sharks feed and are much more excited.

So our group of divers sticks to day-diving. They return to the pass every day for almost a week. Here diving with sharks can become addictive!

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Maya with sharks

“Drift-diving, propelled by the strong current of the pass with hundreds of sharks all around me, getting closer and closer, has become the most thrilling experience of my life!”- said 12-years-old Maya.

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Kids and Coconuts in Makemo

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The Tuamotus are wonderful.

Spectacular remote lagoons and tiny coconut motus (islets), warm clear waters, healthy corals and tropical fish, relaxing atmosphere and friendly locals. Sailing from lagoon to lagoon, from island to island, snorkeling and scuba-diving, making huge bonfires on the beach in the company of dear friends became our most favorite times in French Polynesia.

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After Raroia- our love-of-first-sight atoll, we sail to Makemo- the fourth biggest yet rarely visited by sailors or tourists atoll in the Tuamotus. Makemo Atoll measures 69 km in length and 16.5 km in width, with a land area of 56 km² and a lagoon of 603 km² in area with two navigable passes and an airport.

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It is the best place to spend a few days with very strong winds announced- up to 35-40 knots, because the main inhabited island of the atoll has a neat little village Pouheva with very welcoming people (population of about 600), good internet access, a bakery selling fresh hot 60-cent French baguettes, a decent pizza place, and a free public dock big enough for three catamarans, where S/V Invictus, S/V Mercredi Soir and S/V Fata Morgana are welcome to stay as long as they like.

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Pizza with friends

Pizza with friends

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Besides the small one-story houses with lush flowering gardens and clean streets, in Pouheva there is a church, a lighthouse, a boarding school where kids from neighboring atolls come to study, and a big football/basketball court, covered with a high tin roof, protecting the court from the tropical sun and rain. Here the locals gather every day to practice for the Heiva Music and Dance Festival in the beginning of July.

Lighthouse in Makemo

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Maya and Sam watching the kids practicing for Heiva in Makemo

 

The entire island population is busy preparing for the festival, making decorations and costumes. Tiny seashells collected on the shores, palm leaves and flowers are the main materials used to make the dancers’ costumes. These guys also collected the empty flour bags from the bakery and are using them to make the skirts.

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I spend hours helping with the costumes together with a few women, a man and one shy rae-rae (a transvestite- very common throughout French Polynesia, and respected “third gender” believed to combine the best male and female qualities), in a tiny shed where the floor is covered with crushed corrals. My job is to prepare the flour bags for the skirts by removing the horizontal threads one by one.

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(read more about the RaeRae and Mahu: third Polynesian Gender.  Similar to Fa’afafine of Samoa )

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We are welcome to watch the music and dance repetitions. The music and dancing are so wild and contagious, it’s hard to resist. Soon Ivo, who is really good at dancing, joins one of the groups, impressing the locals with his grace, beauty and beard.

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He also impressed the many local kids who hang around the public wharf and the boats all the time with another skill- kiteboarding. 30-40 kts winds are ideal to practice some jumps while the boat is safely attached to the pier.

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The barefoot kids in Makemo are curious cheeky little fellows, always ready to help. After school, running or riding their bicycles, they come to check what we are doing. Jumping from the pier and swimming between the boats, admiring Ivo’s kiteboarding performances, but mostly- spearfishing in the shallow reefs, are their favorite activities.

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“Aren’t you scared of sharks?” I ask Kura, a 12-yers-old boy and two of his friends who are constantly in the water chasing fish.

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“No. But my dad was eaten by sharks,” says one of the boys laughing, so I don’t know if he is joking or telling the truth.

“But sharks are not dangerous. They usually don’t bother you. What happened with my dad was an accident, because he was drunk. He went to one of the motus and didn’t attach his boat, so the boat started drifting. He was very drunk, but he jumped in the water swimming after the boat, trying to get it back. He drowned, because he was really wasted. They found his body in the lagoon a couple of days later. The sharks had eaten his arms and legs and his head was missing. We couldn’t bury him like this. He was half-eaten. So we ate him…”

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My jaw drops. Did I hear correctly? The other two boys are smiling. One is interrupting the story, telling to the orphaned kid not to say this. “We don’t say this!”

I scream covering my mouth with both hands “WHAT???”, but the kids are running away laughing.

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In a place surrounded by miles of ocean, where the tiny pockets of sand only yields coconuts and the sea- fish; where food, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and any other products are difficult and expensive to get, especially for people with limited means, protein is the islanders’ main daily concern. Fish makes up for 90% of the locals’ diet. Here (it is not a secret), ever since before the arrival of the first Europeans in the 18th century, dogs have been on the menu and are still part of the Polynesian peoples’ protein source (we’ve been told repeatedly by the locals themselves), along with local chickens, pigs and sea birds. Why not human meat, if it’s already half eaten by sharks?

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I don’t know if this story is true or the kids are just trying to joke with us, the foreign visitors: “Watch out, we are cannibals.”

One thing is for sure- they respect the sharks profoundly- rulers of the sea- and would never kill or eat a shark.

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One morning, during my 20 minutes jogging routine, I met Teva Tuku and Taai Tuua. Teva and Taai are in their sixties. Their many children are all grown up and have families and kids of their own, and have left Makemo to live and work in Tahiti and France. Teva and Taai live alone now in their small yellow house and produce copra. They invite me to talk about the Islands, the Ocean and Nature and the dangers they face today with over-fishing, illegal whale trade and climate change. But mostly, they explain to me all about the process of copra production and coconuts in general, while Taai is making a palm-leaf bag for me.

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Copra is dried coconut used to extract coconut oil by collecting fallen coconuts, breaking them, removing the shell, and sun drying the kernel. Every family harvests coconuts from a certain amount of coconut palms on the main island or the motus from the atoll. First, the coconut is split in two and left in the sun for two days. After two days the meat can be removed from the shell with ease, and the drying process is complete after three to five more days (up to seven in total). Copra is then exported to “Huilerie de Tahiti” –the copra processing plant built in 1968 in Tahiti where the coconut oil is extracted. The copra industry is the main agricultural resource of the islands of Tuamotu and for many of the other islands of French Polynesia, and contributes to a large part of the local economy. In these isolated islands, copra remains the only source of income besides pearl farming and fishing.

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(Read more about The Coprah industry in Polynesia. )

I go back to the boat loaded with presents: coconuts for drinking and coconuts for eating, a palm-leaf bag and a palm-leaf trey. But the biggest gift I got from these smiling, generous, beautiful islanders is their story full of wisdom, goodness and knowledge.

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Happy People in Nuku Hiva

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After Tahuata Island, we sail to Nuku Hiva- the biggest Marquisan island (330 sq km) and the second largest in all of French Polynesia after Tahiti. Like all the other islands of the Marquesas hotspot, Nuku Hiva is a young volcano, between 4 million and 400 thousand-years-old, without a barrier coral reef formed around it yet. 400 thousand years make it a baby of an island in geological terms (the Caribbean islands, in contrast, are about 50 million-years-old). Its dramatic jagged pinnacles and strangely shaped volcanic peaks haven’t been made smooth by the effects of weather and time yet.

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Taiohae is the capital and most populated city in the Marquesas, which we decide to skip, and sail instead to two of the island’s most secluded bays.

The first one, Anaho Bay, is on the north side of the island, not far from the place where Robert Louis Stevenson- the author of Treasure Island– first landed on his voyage in 1888.  And Herman Melville  (author of Moby-Dick) wrote his first book Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life based on his experiences in Nuku Hiva.

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This is one of the most beautiful bays in Polynesia we have seen, with sandy beaches, palm trees, sharp rock formations and volcanic ridges in the background creating a dramatic breathtaking landscape.

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It takes us an hour to enter, slowly tacking in the deep bay, with the wind stopping completely at times, changing direction or suddenly descending accelerated from the mountains.

We spend there only a couple of days snorkeling, walking around the beach and looking for coconuts before sailing to Hakaui Bay on the south side, bringing a big yellowfin tuna with us. The waters around these most isolated South Pacific islands are rich with fish- catching large tunas, wahoos, dorados and marlins is not a rare exceptional event.

Once again we sail into the bay without turning on the engines, and drop anchor on sail. We are used to this now, after three years of practice.

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First, we slow down the boat by opening the sails (wind angle) or unclutching and letting out the main sheet completely if the wind is too strong, so that the mainsail catches lass wind. We choose the spot where we will drop the hook and slowly approach it. Ivo furls the jib quickly as we are close to the chosen spot and we turn towards the wind a few meters before we reach it. It takes some time before the boat stops completely. Maya drops the hook and we leave the mainsail up for a while so that the wind pushes it and the boat back- to set the anchor. Then we drop the mainsail. It’s almost the same like dropping anchor on engine, except that there is no margin for errors and maneuvering depends on the wind direction and force.

Here, we find once again our new friends from S/V Mercredi Soir and the German family with the two cute little girls aboard S/V Invictus and we share the big tuna with them aboard Fata Morgana- first of a series of epic parties.

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Hakaui Bay is a river delta and the staging point for hikers to the world’s third highest waterfall. Ivo and I take our awesome orange kayak for a spin, while Maya is in the dinghy with her friends Tom and Sam an hour behind us.

Entering the river from the sea is like entering a different world in the shadow of a green mountain. The kayak sliding silently, the river is dark and still. Large yellow flowers floating over their perfect reflections, a row of palm trees guarding the shores. We disturb a heron on the river bank and an eel beneath the water surface.

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The river flows slow, full and deep for a while until it reaches the garden of a small house and becomes shallow. We leave the kayak here attached to a tree. This land with all its fruit trees and large flowers, and this house surrounded by coconut palms, banana plants and shrubs with tiny red chili peppers belong to one family- an ever-smiling Polynesian woman, her over- hyper Polynesian man with tattooed face and their 12-years-old son.

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The path to Vaipo waterfall cuts through their property and they welcome hikers all the time, guiding them through the mountain, organizing dinners for cruisers and trading fruits.

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It’s late in the day and the path is muddy from the rain in the mountains so we, together with our friends, only hike to the first viewpoint from where we can see the waterfall- thin and tall- cascading down the mountain. To reach the waterfall, you need a guide, the path has to be dryer, and you have to start in the morning, as the hike is long and difficult. We are happy to see the fall from a distance and go back to talk some more with the extravagant locals at their river-farm.

Vaipo Waterfall

Vaipo Waterfall

The Marquesian people are closely and proudly related to the Maori people of New Zealand. In Polynesian mythology, their common ancestors come from Hawaiki – the original home of the Polynesian peoples. The Hawaiki people disperse across Polynesia, to the islands of the Pacific Ocean in open canoes, called waka. This is why even today the Maori and the islanders have so much in common- music, dancing, traditional tattoos, beliefs and mythology.

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The Polynesians are also the most welcoming people who meet strangers with open hearts and smiles on their faces, without prejudice or reservation. It is surprising to find such people after traveling halfway around the world and meeting all kinds of people- we didn’t believe they really exist- honest, open and warm, like happy children. They made us happy too.

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The crazy farmer and his wife are preparing dinner for a group of cruisers. Among them- the Muktuk Family with two boys born and raised on the boat- never lived on land. Their life is an epic never-ending adventure worth of a book.

The Muktuk kids

The Muktuk kids

All the ingredients the local farmers use for the cruisers’ dinner are stuff grown in their own garden or caught in their own backyard, which are the river, the ocean and the mountains. Fish and sea food prepared with fresh coconut milk, roasted chicken and goat meat marinated in fresh coconut milk, and a heartbreaking fruit salad containing unbelievable variety of local fruits soaked in fresh coconut milk.

These guys live off the grid in the most beautiful place on the planet. They have all sorts of fruits and vegetables in their huge garden right next to the river, they have coconuts which they use in all recipes and to make copra; they have pigs, goats, horses and chickens; they fish in the ocean and hunt wild boars and wild goats in the mountain; they organize traditional dinners at their house for cruisers for a few dollars; and they trade.

The next day we return for a visit bringing a few gifts for them and their son. They give us in return a bucket of pamplemousse – which are humongous super tasty grapefruits, piles of star fruits, coconuts, papayas and bananas which we pick from the trees ourselves. Stocked up with a mountain of fresh fruits, we are ready to sail again.

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We stage our crossing from the Marquesas to the blue atolls of the Tuamotu island group from Ua Pou- our last Marquisan Island.

Jilie and Lena S/V Invictus showing Maya the drawings they made for her.

Julie and Lena S/V Invictus showing Maya the drawings they made for her.

 

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*Watch our 12-minute YouTube video Off Grid in Nuku Hiva  – beautiful river delta and a waterfall, and meet our friends, the Muktuk kids, and the local Polynesian guy with face tattoo who lives in paradise. 

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

Since you’re here …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you!

If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!

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Checking-In in Hiva’Oa. The Island of Paul Gauguin

Atuona Bay, Hiva'Oa

Atuona Bay, Hiva’Oa

From Fatu Hiva we sail to the next Marquesian island some 45 nautical miles away- Hiva Oa.

Hiva Oa is one of the largest and most populated islands in the Marquesas, and the Port of Atuona is one of the official ports of entry for yachts and ships. Here we check-in officially in French Polynesia. The checking-in procedure for French Polynesia is different for different people. If you are traveling with a European passport- it’s free to check in at the local Police station and you can stay 6 months (or forever if you are French). You go to the local Gendarmerie with your passport and boat papers and you sign a form- it takes 15 minutes.

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If you are traveling with Canadian, American, South African and other not so lucky passports- you have a few options: to pay a deposit at the bank (which will be returned to you months later when you leave French Polynesia; payable ONLY by credit card) and show that you have funds (around US$5,000 for a family of three) in case something happens to you and you have to be put on a plane and flown out of the country; or you have to show that you have bought a return airplane ticket- even if you are sailing with a yacht; or you have to hire an agent who will become your guarantor. Americans and Canadians can stay for maximum 3 months, while South Africans- 2 weeks only!

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You lose money in all cases. In the first one (security deposit)- you lose mainly from the money exchange fees and bank fees (over US$150, depending on money exchange rates at the time of the transactions). In the second option, if you buy a ticket for a plane- you can cancel and refund it right after you check-in with a cancellation fee (this is the cheapest option- about US$20-25 cancellation fee). If you hire an agent- you have to pay US$300 for his service and you have to have a valid health insurance.

Aranui

Aranui

Ivo and I are born in Bulgaria (Europe) and Maya is born in Canada, but our Bulgarian passports have expired and we couldn’t renew them, because there were no Bulgarian embassies nowhere on our way. We tried in Panama- at the Bulgarian Consulate, but they don’t have passport service there- so no luck. We are traveling with our Canadian passports.

The guy at the Police station in Atuona tells us, that they cannot recognize our European citizenship which we have by birth right, unless we present a valid European passport (not expired). So we need to go to the bank and pay a deposit, buy a plane ticket or hire an agent.

Our ordeal begins. We start going between the bank, the police and the agent; friends are trying to help us with the many issues that come up.

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At one point, about two weeks later (still not checked-in), I ask at the Police station what will happen if we don’t check-in at all and keep sailing from island to island? Will they arrest us, confiscate our boat? Put us in jail? – No, says the police officer, I don’t know what will happen…

Nothing will happen, most probably. Later we met a couple from the United States who have never checked in and have remained for three years in French Polynesia planning to stay for at least two more.

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Finally our only option is to hire and agent. But we don’t have health insurance. So we get DiverDAN for the family- recommended cheapest option. And we pay the agent fee which is killing us… For a second time we regret not having valid Bulgarian passports- the first time was in Colombia.

More than two weeks after our arrival, we are finally legally checked-in and free to keep sailing and exploring the rest of the islands and atolls of the South Pacific.

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We use our time while stuck on Hiva’Oa to walk around the island and chill.

We hitchhike from the port to the village almost every day. Everywhere in French Polynesia hitchhiking is the best, fastest and free way to go from one place to another (if the island is big enough to have roads). Friendly people on all of the bigger islands gave us rides all the time.

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In the village of Atuona, we marvel at some awesome sacred wood and stone  carvings called tikis. Tiki in Maori and Polynesian mythology, is The First Man- half human half god- created by god Tumatauenga.

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Tikis are protective statues considered the “patron of sculptors”, with huge head, symbolizing power and big eyes representing knowledge. Every tiki has its own personality- some are evil, others are benevolent.

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Tiki is a powerful icon of Polynesian culture, symbolizing spiritual strength, and visitors of the islands buy small tiki figurines or pendants as souvenirs- to protect them in their journey.

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The largest ancient tiki ever discovered is on the island of Hiva’Oa in the Bay of Oipona Puamau.

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The Moai- monumental stone statues on Easter Islands- is a variant of the Tiki.

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As we walk around Atuona marveling at the majestic scenery all around us, we hear music- wild rhythms that make you want to start jumping and dancing around the fire. The kids in the local school are practicing for a school celebration and they let us watch. This is our first glimpse of Polynesian dance and music- savage, sexy and full of stories.

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How awesome is that these kids get to learn to play the drums and belly dance in school since age 5!

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A short hike away through the outskirts of the village at the foot of the volcano is the old cemetery.

Old cemetery, Hiva'Oa

Old cemetery, Hiva’Oa

But another cemetery attracts far more visitors.

Paul Gauguin's grave on Hiva'Oa

Paul Gauguin’s grave on Hiva’Oa

On a hill overlooking the bay is the grave of post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. Calvary cemetery  has become a major tourist attraction, besides the Gauguin Museum down in the village with reproductions of his paintings. All tourists coming here climb the hill in heat or rain to pay homage to the famous painter who “escaped western influences” and returned to nature to find paradise lost. Yet, the locals are not too sure about Gauguin and his legacy. What were this French man true motives to buy a house and live in Hiva’Oa?

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The Marquesan islands became famous shortly after their discovery by early European explorers as “haven of free love”. The islanders’ unique culture and way of life included a very different attitude towards sexuality. Children and parents shared quarters and it was OK for kids to witness their parents having intercourse. The adults even found it amusing and funny when children simulated sexual acts, and encourage them to do so from very early age. This explains why European ships were met with swarms of young girls, for whom virginity or chastity was not a social construct, climbing aboard to have sex with the sailors. It also explains why a middle-aged painter whose many Marquesan lovers were barely adult girls, died of syphilis in 1903.

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.*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video More Sushi in Hiva’Oa for more stories from the island- meeting a guitar maker, the arrival of Aranui, looking for an ancient petroglyph in the forest and sharing some MORE SUSHI with friends!

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana


Since you’re here …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog often for their support. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you!

If you regularly read and value our hard work, consider becoming one of our patrons for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month and help us in our future travels. Thank you!


 

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Back to Nature in Fatu Hiva

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We sailed 3000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean.
Our average speed- about 5-6 kts- the speed you have when you go jogging casually in the morning. We honestly thought that upon our arrival in the first of the Polynesian islands, we will have “crossed the ocean”. Not really.

After 23 days of uneventful sailing, a few squalls, too much sushi, and the most spectacular sunsets, we arrive in the middle of the ocean- a tiny speck of land that you can’t even see on the map without a magnifying glass. Fatu Hiva- the first land on the path of sailors doing the Pacific Crossing from Galapagos- a place beyond reality.

Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva

We arrive at night and drop anchor between few other sleeping boats in the Bay of Virgins. The moon is full and bright and we can make out silhouettes of tall cliffs all around us. The smell of flowers and green earth. For the first time in almost a month we sleep at anchor, the boat still, land right next to us.

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In the morning we wake up in the shadow of a strange Jurassic world. Maya says it looks like the Khajiit Realm from her favorite game- Skyrim. The Khajiits are cat people who live in a place called Elsewhere and their king has three sons who are the three moons of this magical world. Fatu Hiva is much like Elsewhere of the Khajiits.

Jagged cliffs of frozen magma plunging into the sea; jungle-covered mountains bathed in pink morning mist rising over a thousand meters; soft folds of green valleys carved by rivers and ancient waterfalls.

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We won’t be surprised if a bunch of dinosaurs pop up from the forest. Actually, a velociraptor just swooped over the palm trees and we saw King Kong climbing up the cliffs on the west side of the bay!

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Right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 12 degrees south of the equator, Fatu Hiva is the southernmost island of the Marquesas island group at the north-eastern extremity of French Polynesia, and the most isolated one. It is only 85 square kilometers in territory with two small villages of a few hundred people and there is no airport. The island is accessible only by boat and tourism is virtually non-existent and limited mainly to cruisers, like us.

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We jump in our three-person awesome kayak and paddle to shore. Land feels strangely new and shaky. It’s hard to keep the balance. Our knees are startled. Our joints awake with disbelief. Our legs are utterly surprised at the forgotten act of walking.

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The dry warm air full of exotic smells is overwhelming.

The village near the bay is but a cluster of a few neat houses almost hidden behind drifts of bougainvillea and hibiscus. Lush gardens with papaya, banana and palm trees, large flowers the color of fire. Pigs, goats and chickens looking at the ground in search of goodies, a sleepy dog walking aimlessly under the bright tropical sun.

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The first Polynesian we meet is a woman sitting on a low concrete fence near the road. She looks like a mixture of Latin-American and Asian race, yet distinctly particular for the Marquisan islands. Dark long very thick hair, a large red flower behind the left ear, she smiles “Bonjour, bienvenues a Polynesie Francaise!” and asks us if we have some perfumes or makeup to exchange for fruits from her garden. Her French has a distinctive islanders’ accent. On these remote Pacific islands with small populations and no shops, where all goods arrive by boat a few times a year, people need all sorts of things, so easily obtained in continental countries. Anything basic- from makeup, clothes, household objects, food and spices- is difficult and expensive to get, and cruisers are always welcome to trade whatever they can spare in exchange for local fruits, vegetables and fish. But we didn’t bring anything to trade.

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We keep walking up a steep road looking for a small waterfall in the forest. Right before we left the boat, a fellow cruiser told us how to find the waterfall. You take the main road and walk up until you reach a curve. Keep walking on the path to your left, past the school and the bridge, through the forest. The path will get narrow and steep and difficult at places. You can’t get lost.

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We got lost. We keep walking on the road up the mountain under the burning sun and it feels the wrong way. There is absolutely no one to ask if we are on the right way to the waterfall. Maya is tired, complaining that her legs hurt. My legs hurt too, and the pain is intense- it has been 23 days of sitting on our butts most of the time and zero walking.

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We reach the top of the hill overlooking the village and the Bay of Virgins. Fata Morgana and her friends look like toy-boats in a calm blue lake below us. The view is spectacular. White birds with long tails like bridal veils soaring among majestic cathedral-like volcanic pinnacles gathering clouds in their crowns, dramatically shaped red and grey cliffs, lush green forests and valleys, and beyond- the endless blue of the ocean.

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Here, in 1937, Norwegian explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his wife found paradise. Here, they lead for one year and a half “a primitive life in the wilderness, away from the artificial civilization, independent of everything except nature”, as he wrote in his book “Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature”- an experience for which I envy them.

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To our left, far in the distance on the opposite side of the mountain we spot the waterfall. We have been walking away from it for the past one hour and a half but the view from this hill is worth the detour. And now we have a better idea where it is. We go back down and meet an old guy walking next to an old horse carrying heavy bags full of dried coconuts. He tells us how to find the way.

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An hour later and one more time getting lost this time in some farmlands, we are finally on the right path.

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It has been a wild dream to see this place, to walk among a jungle full of flowers, to reach the waterfall. And now we are here. Bathing in the cool sweet waters of the deep green pool of our dreams.

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There are not so many places left in the world- awe-inspiring places of extreme natural beauty, unspoiled by civilization and mass tourism like the remote island Fatu Hiva and its elusive waterfall.

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*Watch our 10-minute YouTube video Fatu Hiva- Back To Nature for amazing views of the island and the waterfall!

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Is Galapagos Worth It ?

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What to expect when visiting Galapagos especially if you are sailing there on your private yacht? What are some of the fees, regulations, restrictions and options? What are some of the animals you will see and which are the best places to visit? And ultimately, is it worth it going there at all?

  • Overview
  • The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of some 130 volcanic rocks, islets and islands over 500 nautical miles west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part. 97% of the land area of the Galápagos Islands have been designated a national park since 1959 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only 3% of the total area – Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Floreana and Isabela islands – is inhabited by over 25,000 permanent residents, with Spanish the official language, and these are the only islands cruisers can visit.

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  • Darwin’s Evolution
  • Isolated far from the South American continent, the islands have sprung a population of unique endemic species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. In 1835, during the voyage of the survey ship the Beagle, the young naturalist Charles Darwin collected and studied specimens of wildlife which led to his theory of evolution by natural selection, noting that the finches and the giant land tortoises have developed and adapted differently to the different islands and habitats.

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  • Popular Destination
  • Thanks to their extraordinary fauna and history the Galapagos Islands they have earned a status of a precious and fragile Natural Heritage for Humanity protected by the Park Service. The abundance of wildlife and its unique character has also transformed the area into a popular and very attractive tourist destination with ever-growing number of visitors in recent years, as well as ever-growing permanent population due to the booming economy and influx of tourist dollars.

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  • World’s Most Expensive Sailing Destination
  • This increasing popularity is endangering the local ecosystem and is leading to incessant national and international conservation efforts. Consequently, the Ecuadorian government has imposed a multitude of restrictions and fees to be observed and paid by those visiting and living in Galapagos, making it one of the world’s most expensive and at the same time most restricted places. As a result, the Galapagos Islands have become a privileged somewhat overrated tourist destination, affordable only for the rich, mostly elderly first-world tourists. Backpackers and budget travelers, as well as cruisers with limited means are not so welcome.

    We considered not going to Galapagos because of the high fees and the difficult and long process for obtaining permission, but we were fortunate. Thanks to the help of a few generous individuals who supported us, we managed to raise funds and cover part of the fees.

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  • A Strategic Stopover
  • Galapagos lies directly on the path of sailing boats between Panama and the Marquesas, which for sailors is the longest open-water passage in the world. It is a strategic point- the last land before the ocean- ideal for dropping anchor, getting fuel, provisions and water, and resting for a couple of days after 5-600NM of sailing from Panama or Ecuador (which in the doldrums can take over a week), before the long non-stop passage west. But unfortunately, there is no legal option to land in Galapagos even for a day without being charged amazing entry fees. We have heard from a few different sources, that the Ecuadorian and the Galapagos governments are NOT trying to attract and accommodate cruiser; on the contrary- they “don’t need us” on their territory. Which is a shame considering that the islands are far from mainland and should naturally act as welcoming refuge for boaters. Maybe this has been the case years ago, but today the situation has changes and is getting worse and worse. Most fellow cruisers we spoke to are similarly disappointed from this situation.

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  • Fees, Procedures, Options
  • There are a two option when sailing to Galapagos:
    1. Emergency Stopover – you can visit only one port with your boat for 72 hours up to 21 days for which you don’t need an official permission (Autografo). In this case, you cannot visit Isabela Island (which is the most beautiful one) because it is not an official port of entry. You can only arrive and remain in San Cristobal or Sanata Cruz.
    2. Multiple islands– You can sail to 2-4 different islands (lately is only 3- San Cristobal, Santa Cruz and Isabela), but you have to apply for Autografo with an agent 6-8 weeks before arrival.

    The following information is from www.noonsite.com where you can find more details about Galapagos procedures and fees:

    Various fees need to be paid and do vary from port to port and agent to agent. The most expensive port appears to be Santa Cruz. All official expenses have to be paid in “cash” on the islands, paying with a Credit Card is not an option.

    As a summary:-
    For a 1 Island visit – Expect to pay around $600 to $700 for a yacht with 2 persons on board. Each additional person on board will incur an additional $100 National Parks permit fee.[Will be increased to $200 in 2017]
    For a 2-5 island visit – this requires an Autographo which only your agent can obtain. Total cost, including agent fees, should be approx. $1,200-$1,500 for a 2 person boat (excluding zarpe fees). Each additional person will cost $100 for the National Parks permit. Normally an Autographo is obtained via e-mail well in advance of your arrival.
    In addition, there is a fee of $30 per boat (‘migration fee’) for moving between ports. This does not apply to a 1 island visit.
    Break down of Clearance Fees
    These are approximate, they do tend to vary a little depending on which agent you use:
    Port Captain Fee: US$12.50 per gross tonnage
    Clearance in and out: is US$25.00 each way [every time you leave one port to go another]
    Galapagos Migratory Cards: US$20 per person
    Quarantine/Introduce Species (ABG) inspection: US$100
    Diver for hull inspection: US$100
    Copies and transport for authorities: $50.
    Garbage disposal: $30.
    Immigration Fees
    A personal immigration card per person costs $15 and there are no costs for clearing out.
    Agent Fees
    The choice of which agent you use is entirely yours to make. The fees for the agent are not fixed.
    For a one-port stop (including port captain and Immigration, taxis and copies of passports), US$200-250 is the normal asking price for an average size yacht.
    Agent fees for an autographo are between $450 – $650.
    It is not uncommon to get fees reduced if you negotiate. If the fees asked for are unacceptable you may ask for another agent. Ask for a clear breakdown of which fees your agent is including in his total cost.
    National Park Fees
    There is an admission fee to the Galapagos National Park area of $100 per person ($50 per child under 12) and must be paid by anyone visiting the Park area. Ensure that your agent obtains your park pass and gives it to you to keep on board. [ This $100 fee per person is expected to double even triple in 2017]
    National Park Cruising Fees
    This is $200 per person, per day. You will hear this high dollar figure quoted occasionally. This daily fee DOES NOT apply to the average cruiser who is moving from island to island, anchoring in the major ports. It only applies to (typically) larger luxury yachts who want to actually cruise the park areas outside the major ports.
    These boats are also required to take on a licensed guide who will cost $350 or more per day for this service.
    Fumigation
    A fumigation fee of $70 may be charged on boats that stay longer than 72 hours. If yachts arrive without a fumigation certificate, the fee to obtain one in the Galapagos is $4 per metre of the yacht’s length.
    Other Fees
    Overtime must be paid if checking in outside office hours, 08:00-17:00 Monday to Friday. The overtime fees are almost double the normal fee. Request that your agent complete clearing DURING office hours.
    There are also municipal fees occasionally collected in the main ports and always collected from incoming passengers at one of the two airports.
    All fees quoted here are in US$ and are subject to change by the Ecuadorian government without notice.
    Last updated December 2015. (From http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Galapagos )

    It doesn’t end with these fees. Even though there are many places on the islands you can visit for free, the most beautiful ones are usually off limits unless you join an expensive guided tour (or if you are on a special scientific expedition). For us, as for many other people, visiting Galapagos has been a dream-come-true. But it also was a bit of a disappointment due to all these fees, formalities, restrictions as well as the whole tourist aspect of it.

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  • A Difficult Choice
  • Unfortunately, many cruisers are faced with a tough choice to make when sailing west of Panama and Ecuador. On one hand, you have a rather large amount of cash in entry fees; on the other- the possibility to visit (maybe only once in your lifetime) this unique archipelago teaming with wildlife. Which one would you sacrifice?

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  • Galapagos Animals
  • The marine iguanas are so famously homely, even Charles Darwin piled on, describing them as “hideous-looking” and “most disgusting, clumsy lizards.” It’s true, they’re not pretty, with their wide-set eyes, smashed-in faces, spiky dorsal scales, and knotty, salt-encrusted heads. But what these unusual creatures lack in looks they make up for with their amazing and unique ecological adaptations. Scientists figure that land-dwelling iguanas from South America must have drifted out to sea millions of years ago on logs or other debris, eventually landing on the Galápagos. From that species emerged marine iguanas, which spread to nearly all the islands of the archipelago. Each island hosts marine iguanas of unique size, shape and color.
    They look fierce, but are actually gentle herbivores, surviving exclusively on underwater algae and seaweed. Their short, blunt snouts and small, razor-sharp teeth help them scrape the algae off rocks, and their laterally flattened tails let them move crocodile-like through the water. Their claws are long and sharp for clinging to rocks on shore or underwater in heavy currents. They have dark gray coloring to better absorb sunlight after their forays into the frigid Galápagos waters. And they even have special glands that clean their blood of extra salt, which they ingest while feeding.
    Their population is not well known, but estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. They are under constant pressure from non-native predators like rats, feral cats, and dogs, who feed on their eggs and young. They are protected throughout the archipelago and are considered vulnerable to extinction. (from www.nationalgeographic.com)

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    The Galápagos penguin is endemic to the Galápagos Islands. It is the only penguin that lives north of the equator in the wild thanks to the cool temperatures of the Humboldt Current and cool waters from great depths brought up by the Cromwell Current. They average 49 cm long and 2.5 kg in weight. It is the second smallest species of penguin after the little penguin. The Galápagos penguin is found primarily on Fernandina Island and the west coast of Isabela Island, but small populations are scattered on other islands in the Galápagos archipelago. The northern tip of Isabela crosses the equator, meaning that some Galápagos penguins live in the northern hemisphere.
    They eat small schooling fish, mainly mullet, sardines, and sometimes crustaceans, searching for food only during the day and normally within a few kilometers of their breeding site. They depend on the cold nutrient-rich currents to bring them food. It is endangered and the rarest of the penguin species. Because of the Galápagos penguin’s smaller size, it has many predators. On land, the penguins are preyed upon by crabs, snakes, rice rats, cats, hawks, and owls. While in the water they are preyed upon by sharks, fur seals, and sea lions. They face many hazards due to humans, as well as the hazards of unreliable food resources and volcanic activity. Illegal fishermen may interrupt the penguins’ nesting, and they are often caught in fishing nets by mistake. (from www.wikipedia.com)

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    Giant tortoises are the longest-lived of all vertebrates, averaging over 100 years. The oldest on record lived to be 152. They are also the world’s largest tortoises, with some specimens exceeding 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length and reaching 550 pounds (250 kilograms). There are now only 11 types of giant tortoises left in the Galápagos, down from 15 when Darwin arrived. Hunted as food by pirates, whalers, and merchantmen during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, more than 100,000 tortoises are estimated to have been killed off. Nonnative species such as feral pigs, dogs, cats, rats, goats, and cattle are a continuing threat to their food supply and eggs. Today, only about 15,000 remain.
    The tortoises are now listed as endangered and have been strictly protected by the Ecuadorian government since 1970. Captive breeding efforts by the Charles Darwin Research Station are also having positive effects.
    Galápagos tortoises lead an uncomplicated life, grazing on grass, leaves, and cactus, basking in the sun, and napping nearly 16 hours per day. A slow metabolism and large internal stores of water mean they can survive up to a year without eating or drinking. Spanish sailors who discovered the archipelago in 1535 actually named it after the abundant tortoises; the Spanish word for tortoise is galápago. (from www.nationalgeographic.com)

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    Darwin’s finches are a group of about fourteen species of passerine birds. They were first collected by Charles Darwin on the Galápagos Islands during the second voyage of the Beagle. The birds vary in size from 10 to 20 cm and weigh between 8 and 38 grams. The smallest are the warbler-finches and the largest is the vegetarian finch. The most important differences between species are in the size and shape of their beaks, and the beaks are highly adapted to different food sources- a fact that played an important part in the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
    The males of most species of finches are jet black; and the females (with perhaps one or two exceptions) are brown. With these beaks, males are able to feed differently on their favorite cactus, the prickly pear Opuntia. Those with long beaks are able to punch holes in the cactus fruit and eat the fleshy aril pulp, which surrounds the seeds, whereas those with shorter beaks tear apart the cactus base and eat the pulp and any insect larvae and pupae. ( from www.wikipedia.com)

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    The Galápagos lava lizard is a species of lava lizard endemic to the Galápagos Islands, where it occurs on several islands in the western archipelago. Adult Galápagos lava lizards range from around 50 to 100 mm long. Males are on average larger than females, being twice to three times as heavy. In addition to size, there are significant color and morphological differences between sexes, although color varies across islands. Galápagos lava lizards feed on insects, spiders, and other arthropods. Around human settlements they will also consume bread crumbs, meat scraps and other litter.
    Galápagos lava lizards are active during the day, emerging around sunrise, withdrawing during the heat of midday, and resuming activity in the afternoon. At night they burrow under soil or leaf-litter, submerged up to 12 mm (1.5 inches), often returning to the same resting area each night. Males are territorial, with home ranges averaging around 22 meters in diameter, and defend their ranges against other males with threat displays and fighting. Females have smaller home ranges of around 13 meters diameter, and a single male’s home range may overlap with the ranges of several females. (from www.wikipedia.com)

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    The Galápagos sea lion is a species of sea lion that exclusively breeds on the Galápagos Islands. Being fairly social, and one of the most numerous species in the Galápagos archipelago, they are often spotted sun-bathing on sandy shores or rock groups or gliding gracefully through the surf. Their loud bark, playful nature, and graceful agility in water make them the “welcoming party” of the islands.
    Galápagos sea lions range from 150 to 250 cm (59 to 98 in) in length and weigh between 50 to 250 kg (110 to 550 lb), with the males averaging larger than females. Both male and female sea lions have a pointy, whiskered nose and somewhat long, narrow muzzle. The young pups are almost dog-like in profile. Another characteristic that defines the sea lion are their external ear-like pinnae flaps which distinguish them from their close relative with which they are often confused, the seal.
    Feeding mostly on sardines, Galápagos sea lions sometimes travel 10 to 15 kilometers from the coast over the span of days to hunt for their prey. This is when they come into contact with their biggest predators: sharks and killer whales. Injuries and scars from attacks are often visible. To avoid overheating during the day, sea lions will take refuge from the sun under vegetation, rocks, and cliffs.
    On land, sea lions form colonies at their hauling-out areas. Not only are sea lions social, they are also quite vocal. Adult males often bark in long, loud and distinctive repeated sequences. Females and juveniles do not produce this repetitive bark, but both sexes the younger pups will growl. From birth, a mother sea lion recognizes her pup’s distinct bark and can pinpoint it from a crowd of 30 or more barking sea lions.

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  • Places of Interest
  • La Loberia Beach on San Cristobal is a long 40-50 min hike from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on a paved road under the heat of the sun, so bring water and snacks. This is one of the best spot to see colonies of marine iguanas sunbathing on the black volcanic rocks near the shore. You can swim and snorkel here and it is possible to avoid the tourist crowds and visit the place without a guide and for free.

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    The Interpretation Station on San Cristobal is also within a walking distance from the town and port. It is a museum explaining the significant natural, human and geological events of San Cristóbal Island and the surrounding archipelago. The hike is pleasant on rocky paths and boardwalks among lava flows and arid vegetation and the museum itself is most informative and interesting. Free of charge.

    La Galapaguera on San Cristobal is a breeding center for giant tortoises located in the northeast part of San Cristobal Island, about one hour by car from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Here in a protected area, giant tortoises live and breed in captivity. The admission is free but to get there is tricky. Most tourists join a tour or hire a 60-dollar taxi but there is a much cheaper option- once a week a bus goes to Galapaguera and back for about $5 per person (Ask a local which day, what time and where the bus stops. Ask another local the same questions, as you might get two very different answers). And if you want to check out the near-by white sand beach Puerto Chino (too crowded for our taste), you might miss the bus on the way back, but you can hitch a ride, as we did.

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    Kicker Rock is considered the local highlight, off the coast of San Cristobal, where you can dive and maybe see hammerhead sharks as well as many other species of sharks and marine creatures. But you can only snorkel or dive there on an organized diving tour in the company of a guide and a group of tourists. The tour costs over $200 per person, the water is extremely cold because of the Humboldt Current, the visibility is not always good and there are no guarantees that you will see hammerheads. If you do, they might be specks in the distance. Don’t think that what you see in the brochures will be what you see on the tour. We skipped it.

    The Lava Tunnels on Santa Cruz were once again within a walking distance from the anchorage and free of charge. As the outer layer of molten lava solidified, the liquid magma inside continued flowing, leaving behind these mysterious dark caves and the best part is- you can walk inside!

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    Tortuga Bay on Santa Cruz is a beautiful white sand beach at the end of a 2.5 km walking path surrounded by great cactus trees. The entrance is about 20-minute walk from the main dock in Puerto Ayora. It is open for visitors from six in the morning to six in the evening. Visitors must sign in and out at the start of the path with the Galapagos Park Service office. Admission is free.

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    The Wall of Tears on Isabela is another access-free must-see place in Galapagos 5 kilometers from Puerto Amistad. On the way there we met free-ranging giant Galapagos tortoises. You can hire bikes or walk for an hour until you reach a massive wall built with heavy volcanic rocks. Between 1946 and 1952 there was a penal colony on this spot and the inmates were forced to build this wall under the burning equatorial sun. The only purpose of the Wall of Tears was to reform the prisoners and keep them occupied. A punishment for the strong, a death sentence for the weak.

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    The Giant Tortoises Breeding Centre on Isabela (on the edge of the town; free admission) is full with miniature giant tortoises as well as with giant giant tortoises- all sizes giant tortoises- lots of fun to watch. There is a boardwalk starting from the breeding center passing along couple of swamps- home of pink flamingoes. A short excursion which we really enjoyed.

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    Sierra Negra on Isabela is an active volcano rising at 1100 m above the sea. It has last erupted in 2005. The crater is enormous, filled with black solidified lava. Restricted to organized guided tours only. Cost $30.00 per person. We joined a group of about 20 tourists, some out of shape and unfit to hike. At the very beginning of the trail more groups showed up and merged into a human traffic jam up and down the trail. Not worth it.

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    Los Tuneles on Isabela is probably the most beautiful place in Galapagos accessible for tourists– an area of calm water behind the ocean breakers where broken lava tubes form natural bridges and underwater stone tunnels- home of thousands of sea birds and ocean creatures. In April, was the blue footed boobies mating period and we could watch the birds from up close dancing and singing in pairs. In the underwater caves, we snorkeled with sharks, sea turtles and penguins. The place is strictly off limits, unless you join an 80-dollar per person guided tour. Unfortunately, the rest of the tourist who joined the same tour were 90-years-old Europeans who didn’t understand the guide’s instructions, disturbed the sand and ruined the visibility of the water, could not keep up with the group and we had to wait for them constantly losing our time. They managed to appear in the background and foreground in almost all of our photos and videos. The experience was so utterly spoiled, we promised to ourselves never to join any guided tours anymore.

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  • So Is It Worth It?
  • If you are passionate about Nature and Wildlife, especially- marine and underwater animals (who isn’t?) – then you should probably visit Galapagos, just to check it off your list, even though you will still feel the pain when it comes to paying the exaggerated entry fees and tour prices and you might still ask yourself at the end: Was it worth it?

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    Let’s say money is not an issue for you and you don’t care about the prices. But if you imagine roaming alone on secluded beaches and frozen lava flows taking pictures of unique animals, or diving in coral gardens and underwater tunnels teaming with life, you might still be disappointed. Yes, you can take a walk on the beach or visit a volcano, but in most cases you will have to join an expensive tour and a bunch of elderly tourists will be all around you all day long. The most beautiful places on the four islands which you are allowed to visit are off limits unless you pay for a tour. Yes, you will take some pictures of unique animals, but in most frames there will be pink human legs in the background. Yes, you can dive in coral gardens and underwater tunnels, but ONLY if you join a guided tour and yes, the cold water will be teaming with life- mostly other tourists.

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    We were excited to meet the marine iguanas- “hideous-looking” yet gentle vegetarians, sitting in groups on the rocky shores motionless, spitting saltwater through their noses. We observed with amazement the giant land tortoises – ancient creatures slowly dragging their thick shells with the most serious expressions on their wrinkled faces. We were fascinated by the incredible agility of the little Galapagos penguins gracefully flying underwater, the enormous sea turtles, the many different species of reef fish and sharks. We fell forever in love with the adorable lazy and stinky sea lions and it was heartbreaking when the time came to sail away and leave them behind. But besides the animals, there were the humans with their greed and rules and this spoiled the entire experience to the point of almost regretting stopping in Galapagos. There are many other places on the planet where you can enjoy nature’s beauty and abundance of wildlife much cheaper, without the crowds, without the guides and the hustle, where cruisers are welcome. We kept sailing west. In the Polynesian atolls of the Tuamotus we went diving with hundreds of sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and the most beautiful tropical fishes abundant in the warm waters of the Pacific- we didn’t need permissions or guides and we could snorkel and dive in the clearest warm waters as many times as we liked free of charge. In New Zealand we met once again sea lions and penguins, boobies and many other animals and birds which were not surrounded by tourists with photo cameras.

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    It’s hard to say if Galapagos is definitely worth it or not. It is definitely overrated. We enjoyed much of our time on the islands and we are glad we did go, but we left if with mixed feelings, and somewhat disappointed- a place which is now off our list of Return Destinations.

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    Fata Morgana Destinations

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    Where is S/V Fata Morgana heading to next?

    MAP23

    Many are anxious to find out where the wind will blow us after five months in Panama, our longest stay in one anchorage EVER! And even though our plans, like the sea, are never solid and may change without notice at any time, here is where we would like to go in the near future, Neptune permitting. This is the Best Case Scenario for The Life Nomadik crew aboard S/V Fata Morgana:

    After sailing to most of the Caribbean region in the past two years, from Cuba, to Mexico, Guatemala, The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, down the Easter Caribbean Island Chain to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and back to Puerto Rico, we crossed over to Aruba, next we sailed to Colombia, the San Blas Islands, and across the Panama Canal to the “other side”. We are now in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for spring, when it is the best and safest time to cross from Ecuador to French Polynesia. But before this, we still have much to explore in Central and South America on land.

    Two Years in the Caribbean Sea

    Two Years in the Caribbean Sea

    In the beginning of December 2015, which is the end of Rain Season in these parts of the world, we will leave Fata Morgana at anchor in Panama City and take the bus to the Province of Chiriqui, near the border with Costa Rica. This is the most beautiful part of Panama, with hiking trails in tropical forests, volcanoes, canyons and waterfalls, best enjoyed in Dry Season, between the months of December and July. With a tent and warm cloths, we are planning to climb Panama’s tallest peak Volcan Baru, from whose top one can see both oceans in the distance, the Atlantic to the east and the Pacific to the west, early in the morning, before the clouds roll in.

    Нашата палатка нощем

    Our tent at night

    After Chiriqui, we will take the bus to Costa Rica. First stop: El Golfito, where we are hoping to meet new friends cave bats researchers, and then we will spend some time hiking, camping, drinking river-water, and socializing with parrots and monkeys on one of the most bio diverse places on Earth: the Osa Peninsula. Another bus rides (or a passing car or two) will take us from Osa Peninsula to the foot of Cerro Chirripo– Costa Rica’s highest mountain. Of course we’ll climb it!

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    Next on the agenda is the capital San Jose and some of the nature parks around. From San Jose we will continue north to the beautiful town of Liberia, surrounded by even more nature parks, volcanoes and hiking destinations. Then we will hit the beaches on the Pacific Ocean side near the border with Nicaragua and see if the wind will fill Ivo’s kitesurf or not. Kitesurfing in Costa Rica, and then on the big lake of Nikaragua is on the menu. If all goes according to plan, all this kitesurfing will be in the company of our good friend Rado, whose entire family lives in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital. We will pay them a visit and pitch our tent in Rado’s parents’ backyard right around Christmas and New Year 2015. There are a lot to see and do in Nicaragua, and our “local” friend will show us around.

    Central America Trip

    Central America Trip

    In the beginning of January, we will head back to Panama City, where Fata Mrgana will hopefully wait for us safe and sound. She will need a quick bottom job there (a new coat of paint on the hulls) before we sail south to Ecuador. Arriving in Ecuador by the end of January 2016 will give us two-three months’ time to explore the country, hop to Peru and all the way to Bolivia once again riding The Bus with a tent and sleeping bags on our backs.

    panama-ecuador-peru

    South America Trip

    April 2016 the big epic ocean journey begins. A thousand miles to the Galapagos Islands should take us between one and two weeks of sailing west. How long we will stay in Galapagos depends on how much it will cost and how much we will have collected from our Galapagos Fund. A unique and fragile ecosystem and a final rest stop before the long journey west, the Galapagos Islands are not a place to be missed. Unfortunately, these islands are one of the most expensive sailing destinations on the planet, but we are sure it’s worth it.

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    The four thousand miles of Nothing-But-Blue should begin somewhere between the end of April and mid-May 2016 from Galapagos and hopefully end successfully a month later on the shores of one of the most beautiful islands on Earth in French Polynesia. From here on, our plans are a distant blur. By November 2016 we will have to be in New Zealand, but we might postpone New Zealand with a few months or a whole year if we feel like it. Once settled in New Zealand, we will spend a lot of time exploring the two islands by land, and who knows when (sometime in 2017-2018) we will continue to Australia. Needless to say, we will visit Australia properly on wheels and foot before continuing on to Indonesia. We have “a date” in Bali with an awesome individual and his awesome family.

    Across the Pacific Ocean

    Across the Pacific Ocean

    And then Asia. In Asia is where our hearts are. It will take us years of traveling in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India… Across the Indian Ocean, from the Maldives, to the Seychelles, to Madagascar, South Africa, and past Cape Good Hope to Cape Verde with a stop in St Helena, The Canaries Islands, Gibraltar, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey…. If we are still alive and well, we will be at least 5-6 years older, with eyes filled with beauty from around the world, hearths full of friendships, minds populated by unforgettable memories and unbelievable stories to share with you, when we finally reach the shores of the Black Sea and drop anchor in Varna, BULGARIA.

    In the land where we were born, our journey will pause but not end, as there are so many more ports in the world waiting for Fata Morgana, and so much more thirst for adventure running in our veins.

    Sailing Fata Morgana

    Sailing Fata Morgana

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    Maya’s Journey. On a Search for Whales

    An example of Maya’s Boat School experience/experiment is her recent Whale Project.

    Humpback whales Mother and Baby, by Maya

    Humpback whales Mother and Baby, by Maya

    After visiting the Pearl Islands in Panama where we met and observed humpback whales in their natural environment, Maya had to do a project, as a part of her education and development. The objective was to create a coherent written text using research and personal experience. For the research, we watched the 1998 documentary Whales An Unforgettable Journey, pausing the film each time there was an important information so that Maya could take notes of all the scientific and interesting facts mentioned. Next, she had to find an on-line article, read it and select some more facts and information related to the humpback whales. The final step was to write a text containing description of the animals, details about breeding, migration, as well as an account of Maya’s personal encounter with them, accompanied with a drawing.

    Maya on a whale watching expedition

    Maya on a whale watching expedition

    The Whale Project

    The whales are the largest creatures in the world. They are bigger than dinosaurs. The Blue Whale is the biggest of all whales measuring 30 meters (100 feet) in length and 200 tons. Its head is bigger than a small car and a young child could crawl inside its largest arteries. His heartbeat is so loud that you could hear it a mile away. The white skin on their heads is called ‘callosity’ and each and every pattern is unique like a fingerprint. Whales look like they have a frown. Only male humpbacks sing. The humpback whale’s songs travel a thousand miles away through the sea.

    Photo by Maya

    Photo by Maya

    Whales migrate great distances every year. They travel between the cold waters of the North to the hot waters of the equator. In the cold they feed on krill and plankton by filtering them through their teeth called ‘baleens’. Plankton and krill are a massive protein source and thus the whales store fat called ‘blubber’ which helps them survive without eating anything during their migration for a few months. They travel 3000 miles away and lose a third of their weight during the trip, following the same ancient routs as their ancestors.

    Photo by Maya

    Photo by Maya

    When they arrive to the hot waters of Hawaii and the Pearl Islands Archipelago in Panama they give birth. Humpback whale-mothers are pregnant for a year once every four years and give birth to a baby that weighs 2 to 3 tons. Like humans, whales are air-breathers and babies have to come out of the water for air every few minutes. Calves only drink milk for the first few months. While nursing, the baby gains 100 pounds a day in the first few weeks. Mothers protect their calves. Physical contact is very important for the mother and the baby. The young whales like to play and sometimes to block their mother’s blowhole in order to attract attention.

    Photo by Maya

    Photo by Maya

    This year, I went in a small motorboat for whale-watching with my parents and a Russian couple we met in the Pearl Islands. We were looking for humpback whales but for one hour found no sign of them. Then we suddenly saw a mother and her calf breaching and waiving their tails with absolute joy. They both had masses of callosity on their heads. The mother was huge! It was nice. And then we saw about 12 spouts in the distance coming from the ocean. Whales! They were approaching us, jumping in the air and flipping their tails. It was terrific; we certainly took a bunch of photos. It was a nice journey on a search for whales. I liked it.

    Maya S/V Fata Morgana

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    Killer Whale tribal design

    Killer Whale tribal design

     

    Watching humpback whales has been a valuable lasting lesson not only for Maya, but for all of us. Learning through nature and direct experiences with the support of research materials and documentary films has proven to be the best successful strategy. Such lessons are also easy, interesting and unforgettable.

    Find and follow Maya on Instagram/Theyoungtraveler

     

    *Related articles from the blog: Boat School

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    Sailing to The Pearl Islands

    Sailing to The Pearl Islands

    The Pearl Islands

    The Pearl Islands

    About 30 nautical miles south of Panama City, the Gulf of Panama is dotted by over 200 small and big mostly uninhabited islands and islets of exceptional beauty, named Islas de las Perlas (The Pearl Islands). It is our favorite destination on the Pacific Ocean side of Panama and a place no cruiser sailing through these parts of the world should miss.

    At Anchor near Contadora

    At Anchor near Contadora

    The Pearl Islands emerged from the ocean over 60 million years ago. Before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, they were home of the Cuevas and Cocle indigenous cultures. In 1513, their “discoverer” Vasco Nunez de Balboa named the islands Pearl Islands, after the Indians greeted him with baskets full of large pearls. This friendly gesture from the part of the local population was met with violence and only two years after the arrival of the Spaniards the locals were brutally and completely wiped out. After killing everyone, the conquistadores realized that there is no one left to harvest the pearls which were so abundant in the waters of the archipelago. So they imported slaves from Africa to do the dirty job; slaves whose descendants make the majority of the inhabited island’s permanent population today.

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    After one unsuccessful attempt to sail to Las Perlas from our anchorage at La Playita (the wind died and we spent four hours drifting with the current, covering just one mile in the wrong direction, and decided to turn back …) we start again one slightly windier September morning. It’s rainy season in Panama which also means not much wind until November.

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    Big Ships anchorage and Panama City in the distance. Water in the gulf is covered with floating plastic garbage from the ships.

    The wind dies down again just as we are crossing the big ship anchorage outside the Canal Zone and we find ourselves drifting with strong current and almost no wind among containerships, some waiting at anchor, others maneuvering, and we almost get run over by a giant metal boat (or rather, we run over the giant boat), because Ivo will not turn on the engines even in a situation like this, and with the spinnaker up our options for turning are limited…

    Sailing on a collision course

    Sailing on a collision course

    Very slowly, we are out of the danger zone so crowded with cargo ships and so polluted with plastic garbage floating on the surface of the sea, it’s appalling.

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    The next couple of hours- still no wind and our progress is ridiculous 1 to 1.5 kts…

    Ivo- one horse power, 0.5 kts speed...

    This is Ivo- “motor-sailing”- puling the boat with one horse power, 0.5 kts speed…

    In the afternoon, the wind finally picks up and we sail fast now, with 6 knots. Yet, we have lost precious time for the first 5 hours, and we cannot make it before sunset.

    Mira

    Mira

    The charts of The Pearl Islands are notoriously inaccurate and the entire archipelago is a rough area to navigate, especially at night, with lots of reefs and dangerous rocks in the shallows near the islands. Luckily, we have the Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus (fourth edition). It is an essential cruising guide for Panama, San Blas, Bocas del Torro and Las Perlas, which a good cruising friend gave us awhile back in exchange for a few of our old AGM batteries. This book has been our most treasured crew member since we left Cartagena (Colombia) direction Panama a few months ago, a crew member we could count on; who never failed us. Thank you Tina, and thank you Eric!

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    We arrive at night with one final squall pushing behind us, navigating in pitch black, paying little attention to the charts and much more attention to The Book, avoiding shallow areas and reefs, until we see the lights of hotels and houses on Contadora.

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    There are free mooring balls just off the beach and Ivo orders us to catch one, on sail. We are super close to shore, it’s shallow, it’s dark, there is strong current and we are trying to catch a small mooring ball, without engine! Here is how it’s done: you sail in the direction of the mooring ball but not towards it, so that when you are close enough, the ball remains exactly where the wind is coming from. A few meters away from the ball you turn towards it (and towards the wind) and quickly furl the head sail. The main sail is up, but the wind is against you and the boat slows down super quickly and stops just next to the mooring ball. You catch it and drop the main. You have to consider the current as well when you estimate when and where to turn. If you turn too soon, or if the distance between the boat and the mooring ball after you turn is too big, the boat stops before you reach the ball and starts drifting backwards. In this case, you have to position the boat sideways to wind, spread the headsail again and repeat the operation. Always be aware of the surroundings and other boats in the area, shore, rocks, wind and current. In high winds, at night, and in a crowded unfamiliar anchorage, it is much more difficult to do this operation. In our case, the current is super strong, it is pitch black, we have never been here before, and there are a few small fishing boats on moorings all over the place. Yet, after much yelling and running around- Ivo on the wheel and furling the head sail, Maya with the spot light, and me with the long hook trying to grab the damn thing- we manage to catch one mooring ball without turning the engines on, only after the third attempt… A great exercise.

    The sea at sunset

    The sea at sunset

    The next morning, we wake up in front of a small beach with the hilly island of Contadora rising behind it. A few small hotels and private luxurious mansions are perched on the hill, surrounded by trees and flowers. The island is a little more than one square kilometer in territory with a couple of hundred permanent residents and many hotels and vacation homes. With its small airport and small boat port, Contadora is the most accessible and most popular of all Perl Islands among foreign tourists and weekenders from the capital, attracting visitors with its pristine beaches, and gorgeous resorts built without disturbing the nature.

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    After the construction of so many hotels and houses, roads and public spaces in the 1960s and 1970s, the flora here has been successfully preserved with lush tropical vegetation looming over buildings, and roads making sudden illogical turns around large centennial tees. The busy tourist season has not started yet, and there is almost no one. The hotels are deserted, many- abandoned and in ruins. It feels so calm and quiet as if time has stopped. It is also the only island from the archipelago that has streets long enough to run, so Ivo can still train for his marathon.

    Cintadora

    Cintadora

    It is a great relief being here alone, in the calm clean transparent waters teaming with fish, after so many weeks in the polluted rocky and sometimes noisy anchorage at La Playita near the Panama Canal’s entrance. It’s time to relax, snorkel and fish, and once again fully enjoy our cruising way of life. This is exactly what we signed up for. And it gets better.

    (To be continued…)

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    Fata Morgana

    Mira

    Mira

    Ivo

    Ivo

    Maya

    Maya

    Ivo and Maya

    Ivo and Maya

    Read about our favorite cruising destination on the Caribbean side of Panama: Paradise at The End of The Sea

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