*No sharks were harmed in the making of this post….I don’t think.*
On our second “Monday” in Manihi, Ferdinand arrived early at Sonrisa’s hull. He gives her side a knock and cheerfully calls out “America!” This is his name for Sonrisa’s collective crew. I poke my head up. He has four of his grandchildren, the two LDS missionaries (Sister Smith and Sister Seroni) and a large cooler packed for a picnic. He explains we are going to “Sector” for a tour, picnic, waterskiing and for what I now will call “Shark Rasslin’.”
Not knowing where this day will take us, we load up our fins, snorkels, wetsuits, extra snacks, GoPros, and regular cameras in dry bags. Where Ferdinand is concerned, there is always something exciting going on. We hop in his boat, and we speed off. Once again, Ferdinand has the pedal to the metal, flying over and around coral heads. His grandchildren, collected on the bow of the boat, bounce mid-air in the bigger waves. Crystal, the two Sisters and I are nestled in the back of the boat. Kevin and Andrew sit on a bench made of three boards nailed together loose and free.
Our first stop is a tour of Xavier Michael’s home. Xavier Michael is a French Navy officer who retired and bought a beautiful Motu within the Manihi Atoll. A Motu is a small coral island that makes up part of the larger ring of coral that makes up a Tuamotu Atoll like Manihi. Thankfully, Xavier built a sailmail station on his Motu. When I post to the blog without pictures, it is because Xavier receives my post through the SSB Radio, then uploads it to internet. Xavier was out of town right during our visit, but that didn't stop Ferdinand from giving us a tour of his beautiful home, sailmail station and outdoor shower with a giant clamshell as a soap dish. This is one way to retire!
Next, we stop for a tour of an actual pearl farm. Crystal has been hankering to see a farm in action, so this was a welcome and happy surprise. Ferdinand explains this is his nephew’s pearl farm, and we are welcomed inside. Seated at a small work station, we find our friend Bouta (sp) who shared his Polynesian wine coolers with us when we walked his house an evening or two before. Bouta pulls freshly made Tahitian pearls from the oysters, then replace the pearl with a new seed. Crystal scoops fresh pearls from a bucket and holds them in her hands. Ferdinand pantomimes the internationally understood motions for eating, then pooping. He laughs. He is suggesting she eat the pearls to pirate them away. Of course, we would not do such a thing.
After the pearl farm, we stop at various Blue Lagoons to see all the different places we could anchor Sonrisa if we want to head away from town. Each lagoon is more tranquil than the last, each with turquoise water, palm trees, and solitude. We stop to take pictures standing on a coral head in the middle of the atoll.
We stop to eat some blue lipped mussels.
We stop to see a fresh/salt water pond.
And, finally we reach our afternoon destination. Ferdinand starts throwing old fish out the side of the panga to encourage the sharks to follow us. We beach the boat, and Ferdinand jumps out. He instructs us to “pull the sharks onto the beach” while he prepares our picnic. He hands Crystal a long line of rope and some stinky old fish, then he leaves to bustle around with our lunch.
It’s not long until Ferdinand realizes we have no idea how to get the sharks up on the beach. So he returns and demonstrates once. Step 1: Tie the fish on the end of the rope. Step 2: Toss the fish out about ten feet where the sharks are swimming. Step 3: when a shark notices the stinky fish, slowly pull the rope in. Get the fish halfway up the beach before you let the shark chomp on. Step 4: When the shark chomps down, his teeth get caught on the knot around the fish, pull, pull, pull until the shark is up on dry land. Step 5: Grab the shark by the tail.
“Got it,” Crystal says, “…Wait! Grab the shark by the tail? Can it turn around and bite me?”
“No, no.” Ferdinand laughs, “It is fine.”
I don’t know. This seems sketchy to me. Crystal begins again. She tosses her fish ten feet out, a shark follows it in, she pulls and pulls. The Sisters are screaming, Ferdinand’s grandsons are cheering us on, and his granddaughters are looking on with wry amusement. When the shark is almost on the beach, Crystal drops the line and rushes toward the shark. Crystal, Kevin and Andrew, together try to subdue the shark and grab its tail. The shark thrashes right and left, and swims away. Groans of disappointment filter through Ferdinand’s grandkids.
Andrew tries next. A similar unsuccessful effort gets underway. Kevin is third. Kevin successfully brings the shark onto land, but once again, it thrashes about so much that it escapes. Ferdinand’s 8 year old and 11 year old grandsons take over and get the shark on the beach on their first try. Crystal, Kevin, and Andrew leap to the shark and together trying to hold him still long enough to grab his tail. Crystal is practically sitting on the shark. Ferdinand heads over to help. He grabs the shark by the tail laughing, and holds the shark up. “Take a photo! Take a photo!” He exclaims.
When in Rome?
I take the photo. He motions for me to get in the photo and hold the shark tail. I obey. He sets the shark on the sand, and Crystal sits on the shark for her photo. Andrew grabs the shark by the tail and carries him back to the ocean for freedom. He sets the shark in the shallow water, and the shark swims away.
I look back, and find Sister Seroni (from Vanuatu) walking on a sideways palm tree. “That looks like fun,” I think to myself, and snap a photo. She casually turns my way and smiles. After she hops down, I go to try it myself. I hand Crystal my camera and tell her to take a picture of me, thinking I will look very cool. Two steps onto the palm tree I realize this is one of those island skill sets I simply do not have. I crab crawl my way up the tree, slowly, certain I’m going to roll off to the right or the left at any moment. Sister Seroni is polite and quiet, so she is not laughing at me, at least not loud enough that I can hear. Ferdinand’s littlest grandson runs up the tree behind me.
At this point, Ferdinand has a large pile of dry palm fronds stacked up near the beach. He places several fresh grouper he had speared this morning on the palms, then lights it on fire. He hands Andrew a long stick and instructs Andrew to knock down some coconuts so we can have coconut water to drink. Sister Seroni demonstrates how to chop open a coconut, and Andrew takes a go with the Machete. Sister Seroni opens all of our coconuts in the span of time it takes Andrew to start opening his.
Americans. We are so helpless.
Ferdinand cuts down a baby palm tree to access the heart of palm inside. He slices it up with fish, cucumber, coconut milk, salt, sugar and vinegar for a poisson cru salad. We scoop up poisson cru, rice, and baguette onto a plate. When the fire in the palm fronds dies out, the grouper is done. Ferdinand shows us how use a large leaf to grab the charred fish, then throw it in the ocean. He cleans off the charred skin while sharks circle around him, waiting for their share. I guess they don’t mind being sat on if they get barbecued grouper in the end. I grab my grouper, throw it in the water, then clean off the skin. Ferdinand directs us to sit with our lunch on the beach and “listen to the ocean.” He is smiling, bouncing with energy, and just happy to be showing us around his Atoll.
Lunch is delicious. Mind you, I am worrying the whole time about Cigaterra poisoning (more on that issue later), but Ferdinand says that there is no Cigaterra on any of Manihi’s reefs so we will be safe. I’m not about to reject his hospitality, so I belly up to my plate and enjoy. I sip coconut water from my green coconut, and I do enjoy listening to the ocean. Sharks pass five feet or less from where my toes crinkle the sand, cleaning up our barbecued grouper skin scraps.
I am still picking on my grouper when Ferdinand hops up and declares it is time to go shell hunting. We hike from the inner side of the Atoll ring to the side facing the open ocean. The reef looks like the surface of the moon, with a few palm trees added for tropical effect. Ferdinand paces up and down the beach, looking for jewelry making shells. His grandchildren climb around in the tides of the reef. Crystal and I take a few photos on a large, dry coral head. It’s edges are sharp like razor blades, and I can’t help but think about how this reef would eat my sailboat for lunch if she hit it. I push the unpleasant thought out of my mind.
Soon, Andrew and Ferdinand are huddled over a coral head in the middle of the reef. I saunter out to see what is going on. Ferdinand has chosen a number of sea urchins to crack open and feed us. Uni! Andrew loves uni, otherwise known as the roe (eggs) of a sea urchin. They are creamy, sweet, and salty. If you want to taste the ocean, eat sea urchin. We snack on a variety of urchin until Ferdinand, Andrew and I have all had our fill. I peer pressure Sister Smith into giving it a try, and she will remember me always as that lady who made her eat disgusting sea slime. I could be remembered for worse I suppose.
“Now! Faire du ski!” Ferdinand declares, meaning “lets go waterskiing!” He hustles back to the boat, grabs a length of the same rope we used for pulling sharks on the beach and throws me the skis. He apologizes and tells me that his slalom ski boot is broken so I will probably have to ski on two skis. Surveying the situation, I agree. The inside of his slalom ski boot is completely disconnected from the ski itself, leaving the entirety of my front foot exposed and the ski loosely flopping around. Even when I ski on two skis it’s really more like a surfboard than a ski. The pressure of the water under the ski is the only thing keeping it on my foot. No matter, skiing is skiing, baby!
After one round on the two skis, I suggest that we tie the ski to my foot. Do we have any bailing wire or duct tape handy? Ferdinand's eyes brighten as he looks around and finds an old rubber bike tire. We create a makeshift boot, tying my foot in. Now, it’s really time to go. I start on two again, kick off my right ski and lean back into the left. Andrew explains to Ferdinand that waterskiing is my raison d’etre; Ferdinand smiles and begins making sharp turns to whip me around. I zing from one side of the wake to the other until I crash and skip along the water like a stone. Fantastic! Andrew took a turn, too. Crystal tried skiing for the first time, and up she went. First try! Who knew we would be waterskiing in paradise!
P.S. Lifejacket? What lifejacket? You are more buoyant in salt water anyway, right?
We finish skiing as the sun starts to set. Ferdinand is disappointed because we don’t have time to make it out to his weekend home or to a large coral head in the middle of the atoll. We tell him we had an amazing time, anyway. We collect up our picnic equipment and head back to town. Sister Seroni wove a ball out of palm fronds, and the kids enjoyed skipping the ball along the bow wave as we sped along. The horizon burst into a rainbow of yellow, orange, pink, purple, tourquoise, then navy blue as the sun went down.
Maybe I will never leave Manihi. Could I have more fun anywhere else?