After dinner, we all continued to chat around the boombox. The “kids” all drank their fill of their homemade fruit hooch and became a little tipsy. A new friend staggered into camp and found a seat on a log near the boombox. He, too, was apparently already lit on some local substance. Neil-Nail-Nell explained to me that I should ignore this man as he is “simple” and a little crazy. Ben tells me the newcomer is “Charlie Chaplin’s cousin,” and then they all laugh. The newcomer shakes his head and says, “No, no! I am not Charlie Chaplin’s cousin! Stop it!” The boys all continue to laugh.
I introduce myself, and our new friend told us his name but it was very difficult Marquesan phrase. So, unfortunately, Andrew and I are left only remembering him as “Charlie’s Cousin”. Charlie’s cousin stretches out his arm with his fist at the end. I am not sure what he wants, but I reach my fist out, too, and he knuckle bumps my hand then opens his hand to indicate the “hang loose” sign: thumb and pinky out. I smile and do the same. He smiles. Then, for the rest of the night, every now and then he wants to knuckle bump. He tries to learn our names, too, but eventually gives up and calls me “Bella” and Andrew “Bebe Lu Lu”. He tries to teach us the name of his dog “Rokki,” but much like Neil-Nail-Nell, every time I repeated the dog’s name Charlie’s Cousin would just shake his head and say: “Not Rokki, Roggi!” So I would say “Roggi” and he would say, “No! NO!!! Not Roggi! Rokki!” There must be something amiss with my American-LasVegan-Utahnian accent. For the rest of the night Charlie’s cousin would alternately request a fist bump from either Bella or Bebe Lulu, then point at the dog and chime “Rokki! Roggi! Rokki!”
Soon, Mario informs us that this man is the best pig hunter in all of the Marquesas. He will take us into the jungle for three nights and help us hunt a pig. When Patrick asks how he hunts, it is explained that they will use a spear and a trap. I start scratching my arms just thinking of all the mosquitos. How exactly will we be sleeping in the jungle for three nights? “Bebe Lulu!” The best pig hunter in all the Marquesas calls out, holding his fist toward Andrew. Andrew bumps (again) Pig Hunter points down at his dog, “Rokki! Roggi!” He then punches Rokki on the nose, and the dog yaps and cowers away. Patrick and Andrew look at each other. They look at Paula and me. I don’t think we are going to go pig hunting after all.
We all decide that we have had a lovely evening, but it is time to depart. Neil-Nail-Nell offers to walk us back to the boat. We tell him it is unnecessary, but he says his house is in that direction anyway. He shows us where the whales are buried, and then as we arrive at the dock he points out giant manta rays swimming in the water. They are enormous! With wingspans as wide as I am tall, they flap about in the shallow water. They seem very active tonight, more active than I have ever seen a manta ray be, but I’m sure it’s ok. We will get in the dingy and motor out slowly. We pile in the dinghy, and begin to motor away from the dock. But, instead of tracking where Patrick expects, the dinghy just keeps going in a circle. What the heck? Soon, Neil-Nail-Nell is waving his arms on the dock “C’est dangereux! Tres dangereux!” When the drunk, 24 year old local is waving his arms screaming that something is dangerous, it is time to revise the current plan.
The manta rays are all around the dinghy in a circle, flapping their wings rather frantically. Patrick tries to guide the dinghy back to the dock, but we swing in another circle or two. I see the manta rays’ spear-like tails in the water and think what would happen if they puncture the dinghy. Or what if they hopped in; can they do that? Andrew throws the painter back to Neil-Nail-Nell and he pulls us safely back to the dock. I jump out, Paula jumps out, Andrew jumps out and then Patrick kills the motor and jumps out. Only now can I see that an enormous manta ray has tangled himself in our stern anchor line. He and all his friends are concerned about escape.
Neil-Nail-Nell springs into action. He instructs Patrick to help him pull the dinghy up onto the rocks. I’m sure Patrick did not want to pull his dinghy up onto the sharp lava rocks, but Neil-Nail-Nell was already in progress. They wrestle the dinghy through the surf and up into the rocks, scraping the bottom with loud gouging noises. The manta ray trails behind, hopelessly stuck. All I can think about is the guy from Croc Hunter who died with a stab wound from a manta ray spear. Neil-Nail-Nell finds the stern anchor lying in the rocks just a foot or so away from the manta ray’s enormous mouth. He unties the anchor and tries to pull the rope around the Manta Ray, but the rope will not come out from under the manta without moving the ray. Neil-Nail-Nell tries to stay clear of the mouth and tail, pulling on the front wing a bit. Soon, the rope is untangled and safely away, but now the manta ray is stuck on the rocks.
Neil-Nail-Nell grabs a large stick from under a tree and tries to pry the manta in the direction of the ocean. As Neil-Nail-Nell tries to lift, the manta flaps its wings lets loose a guttural roar that sounds like a garbage disposal. The stick breaks twice, becoming shorter each time. The manta’s black back shimmers under a street lamp, a swirl of gunmetal gray and creamy cloud white wraps across the front of his face. The ray is beautiful, and we are all starting to get worried that he may be trapped on the rocks to his death. The ray’s friends continue to circle frantically in the water. Neil-Nail-Nell is not giving up, though. He times his next effort to lift the ray with an incoming wave. The ray moves toward the ocean an inch or two. Another wave, another push and the ray floats free, but does not move. It floats on top of the water and is carried back on shore. Oh no! How long can these guys stand being out of the water? Neil-Nail-Nell resumes his shoving. Two more waves, two more shoves and the ray is free floating again. Another ray swims between the floating ray and the shore and seems to push him further out to sea. We watch, and soon, the ray that was caught in our line flaps his wings a few times and seems to catch his breath. He dives under and they all swim toward deeper water.
Patrick, Andrew and Neil-Nail-Nell drag the dinghy back to the water. With a mix of gladness, terror and frustration I thank Neil-Nail-Nell and bid him adiu again. Wow. We motor out to the boat in stunned silence. I imagine the sharks that are likely in this dark sand bay feasting on the remnants of dead whale carcus. I know about the giant manta rays with foot long spears. Hopefully the manta rays are grateful we helped them, rather than pissed off that we got their friend tangled in the first place. Patrick drops us off, and we wave goodbye wishing them a safe traverse out to their boat.
Sonrisa rocks and rolls, pitches and jumps all night long. She seems as unsettled as I am. It is hot in the boat, and Andrew radiates heat like crazy. I move out to the couch and tie myself in with the lee cloth, but I still can’t sleep. What would we have done if Neil-Nail-Nell hadn’t been there to take the lead in rescuing the Manta Ray? Would we have done the same thing? Would we have realized the situation was dangerous in time?
This cruising business is never boring. Something unexpected and crazy is always happening, that is for sure. If I had to boil this experience down to one single word, I could do it. Intense. Sailing/cruising can be any number of things: interesting, fun, relaxing, uncomfortable, dangerous, terrifying, disgusting…the list goes on. The flavor of the current moment can turn in an instant, and regardless of which emotion I am feeling, there is no moderation. Each of these experiences come with such intensity that they can’t be ignored. I guess this is what sailors mean when they say they feel “more alive” out here.