Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sleepless in Anaho

The wind is sweeping down from the mist shrouded hills and dark clouds obscure a swollen moon, telling us to shut the hatches, for rain is on its way. It is 2 am and Rani cannot sleep because her no-no bites are itching. She has collected close to 200 bites from two separate beach visits - one on Hiva Oa and one here. The downside to paradise is that poor Rani has a strong reaction to the poison these tiny insects inject and on day one and two comes out in penny-sized welts. On day three they turn into little volcanos and it takes great willpower and antihistamines to prevent her from scratching the hellish itch. They take about a week to pass.

Yesterday we hiked along the bay toward a mile long beach that we had passed on our trip around the island from Taipivai. Again, Nicky and Dennis from 'Knotty Lady' made the trip with us on this hike that our friends on Buena Vista had recommended. Once again, the hike followed a horse trail, this time passing the farm we had learned of the day before. We hoped to obtain some fresh veggies on our way back and headed directly to the beach.

After skirting Anaho bay along a series of white sand beaches, the trail plunged inland over a small rise and descended into rain forest. The farm was visible as a clearing on the right with plastic-mulched fields of melons and stands of various fruit trees. Soon after, we emerged from the woods onto a level plain covered in close-cropped grass and bush. Nicky, who is from the east coast of Scotland, remarked that the scenery looked just like home. Grey weather, an absence of palm trees in the immediate vicinity, and the rain squalls sweeping in from the east, no doubt added to this illusion. The sandy plain could quite easily have been made into a golf course and we were thankful for its remote location that has probably saved it from this fate.

We walked the beach looking for washed up treasure (we had told Dennis of the glass ball fishing floats that used to be washed up all over the Pacific and he was determined to find one). Later, I set up a sand bowling alley using empty coconut shells for balls and plastic bottles for pins. We took turns at this game - one point for the small bottles in front and two for the larger ones behind - before swimming in the surf.

During our swim the rain began. When we came out of the sea as it ended, the no-nos descended en masse. As Rani danced and struck at them, I tried to help her with liberal slaps and applications of DEET, but she still suffered another 50 or 60 bites to add to her 120+ existing ones. We fled the beach to higher land where the no-nos do not seem to live. On the way back, we stopped in at the farm, but finding no one there had to content ourselves with a self-guided tour. The produce at this time of year consisted mainly of melons and cucumbers.

Today I talked Rani into a snorkel on the reef. The calmer weather and reduced turbulence has improved visibility in the bay markedly in just two days. This reef is made up of coral formations like none we have seen. The corals form encrustations that look exactly like the funguses one sees on dead tree trunks in the Pacific Northwest, only larger. Some of these fans reach two and three feet across and in many places are built into conical humps that look for all the world like human-sized toadstools. Coloured mainly in shades of cream and beige, they have occasional sections of interleaved coral in green (perhaps the green is from an algae coating?)

The fish here are more diverse and colourful than those we saw in Mexico. Unfortunately, we do not have a local fish guide book yet, but look forward to finding something in Taiohae later this week. In addition to fish that are of similar forms to those in the Sea of Cortez - striped Sargent Majors, Butterfly fish, Moorish Idols, and Parrot fish, we saw some that have two little feelers, which they used to scan the bottom for food. These came in a variety of colours and ranged in size from a few inches to well over a foot. Rani also spotted two varieties of what she initially thought were sea snakes, but we were later told were most likely eel.

As we approached open water at the end of a point, two giant mantas swam past giving Rani a real scare (the first I knew of them was when Rani violently grabbed my arm!). These were much larger than the ones we had seen last week - at least 6 to 7 feet in wing span. One of them had lovely patterns on its back and their mouth openings were well over a foot across.

Last night we rowed ashore for a Marquesan meal put on by the owner of a pension located just back from the beach. He is related to Karim, whom we had met a couple of days ago, as well as to all the families on that side of the beach (6 homesteads). 'Chapter 2' and 'Knotty Lady' joined us for the meal that consisted of breadfruit, octopus, chicken, rice, and poisson cru.

The breadfruit was baked over a coconut husk fire (they burn the brown nuts split in two with meat attached) and the meat then extracted from the burned skin. The octopus is from the reef. Karim hunted for this at low tide, looking for little piles of rock that the octopus uses to cover the entrance to his cave. The Octopus was cooked in coconut milk (tenderize by pounding, scrape the skin off on a rock, boil twice for twenty minutes each time, changing water in between, then add coconut milk and bring back to boil, turn off and let marinate). I have never had such tender an octopus - absolutely none of the expected rubbery texture. The poisson cru was made by marinating in the local citrons (limes) a small white-fleshed fish from the reef, adding cucumber as a garnish. The chicken was fresh from their yard. Everything in the meal was gathered locally or grown on the farm we had passed a mile down the beach.

The Marquesans, like the Mexicans, do not seem to have developed a vegetarian cuisine (vegetables are actually fairly hard to find here, while fruit is plentiful), so Rani had to get by on potatoes and green beans, with water melon from the farm for desert.

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