June 17, 2010 - Toau
Anchored in position 16 00.67'S 145 54.80'W
Just when I was starting to think that the postcard picture of turquoise blue lagoons and palm trees seem all the same in the atolls, we moved further south near a beautiful motu (atoll island) and found our paradise. It is absolutely spectacular here. As we approached the shore, noting some houses but no boats, we comment to each other that we are not really craving to be alone right now. And that is when Wallis emerged out of the trees and welcomed us.
Both yesterday and today, Wallis, Mike, and I went spear fishing on the nearby reefs. It is so nice that Mike has a spear fishing partner. Communicating with "C'est bon!" and "No good", hunting seems like an activity that does not require much common language. Besides, you don't speak underwater anyway. It is great that we have local knowledge about which fish are safe from ciguatera poisoning. Getting into our dinghy, Wallis was not shy about expressing his apprehension about the stability of our "petit bato" equipped with oars and a two-horse power engine. (We acquired this engine from another boat back in Nuku Hiva and the little cute engine has extended our playground much farther now.)
Anyway, my job was to take underwater pictures and look out for sharks. After the last couple of "get out of the water!" episodes, I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about seeing a grey reef shark appear any time now. I can easily hear the two spear guns firing underwater, so I swim towards the latest catch, and the fish is quickly placed inside the dinghy. The rest of the time, I can leisurely observe parrot fish, unicorn fish, squirrel fish, surgeon fish, groupers, needle fish, etc. and enjoy the corals. I'm enamoured with the giant clams. They display a palate full of beautiful green, purple, and blue colors and pulse, as if to say, "Kiss me!".
Although I don't engage in the activity, it is quite fun to observe the boys spear fishing. In Fakarava, I watched a very skilled local dude dive swiftly, hold himself on a part of a rock and level himself with the fish, and shoot his spear gun with amazing accuracy. It was very graceful. Wallis, maneuvering a spear gun that is longer than his own height, dove so deep for so long, that it was easy to forget that he's underwater. Every time he came up, he laughed, "Very GOOD! Very GOOD!" super giddy, we could not help but laugh with him. Mike dives deep and for a long time, easily on par with the locals. He looks quite beautiful, too. (Especially with the badass tattoo.)
Yesterday evening, we enjoyed our catch roasted over the fire, sitting by a table on the beachfront, watching the sunset. Wallis' dog (Diablo) and cat (Lolita) joined us. Today, Wallis quenched our thirst with coconut milk, made poisson cru with fresh coconut cream, and taught us how to make coconut bread (pain coco) using an oil drum and a metal roofing as an oven - Voila and fantastic! Maybe we're supposed to have certain servings of each recommended food group every day, but I am sure happy with fish and coconuts alone. It's certainly better than the ultra-processed pasta dish I made using canned meat, bendy carrots, and mystery spice in a package.
Wallis owns no shoes. He asked if we had any, so I gave him my Holey Soles. I had nothing else that would fit his wide but small feet. Despite this, when we go for a walk, he still wears no shoes. I can't imagine how he does it because I can feel the sharp coral bits on the beach through my Chaco sandals! Crazy!
Wallis and Mike are both apologetic about not speaking each other's language. We feel more embarrassed because we're the visitors. Nonetheless, we have fun learning words in both French and Tahitian. We learned that he has seven siblings and one 7-year-old daughter. We learned that every night at 6PM, he makes a fire to signal to the other living beings in this atoll, about 4 miles away, a signal that all is well. When one of the three fires are not lit, they are aware that something is wrong. We learned that he chooses to be in Toau and is happy to be here. It is inspiring to meet such a genuinely happy person. Each time after spear fishing, he says "Merci" repeatedly, when we are the ones thankful that he's hanging out with us. We learn to be happy and thankful.