My first atoll – Kauehi in the Tuamotu archipelago. There is only one pass into the lagoon and the currents can run up to 8 knots. It’s only 100 yards across so there isn’t much room for mistakes. We obviously made it and then rhumb lined it for the village, being careful to miss the coral heads. The clarity of the water makes spotting them easy as long as the sun is over head or behind. Hence, timing any passage now involves: the position of the sun, the cycle of the tide, and the wind direction (because waves will break if the tide and wind direction are opposing). These used to be called “The Danger Islands”. It’s better now with the advent of GPS, but some of my charts haven’t been updated since 1839 and coral heads can grow a foot a decade. The pucker factor still exists.
Here’s the scoop on the pearls: it’s completely illegal for anyone to take them out of French waters without the proper paperwork that you can only get from an “authorized dealer”. It’s like the Debeers family trying to control the diamond trade. “Authorized dealer” means that everyone got rich on the sale since these things sell for up to $300,000 US. Boy did I short circuit the system! – I traded 7 tiny drill bits for 24 pearls (Yes Colin – you get a cut of the booty). I threw in a plastic storage box with dividers, and he gave Suzi 2 extra necklaces. I wish all transactions were so generously concluded. Actually, I was so overly pleased with the experience that I went back and gave him a bag full of limes (they won’t grow here with their thin soil and salted water table). The most interesting facet of our negotiation was that we couldn’t speak one word of a common language. I keep trying to speak Spanish with a generic accent in hope that it will have a few words in common with French, while he grunts vowels in his low island dialect. It was a perfect human experience. We’re going to go back today and fly kites with his retarded son.
After scouring the boat for articles of trade and a new strategy for pearl acquisition, I went in search of the owner of the pearl farm that is visible from my anchorage. It’s a series of houses on stilts built on the edge of the reef as it drops into the azure blue waters of the lagoon. His name is Francky and he was at work removing a pearl from a “nack” when we met. We exchanged pleasantries and arranged a time for me to return the next day with my precious belongings. I traded a bottle of rum, a jar of hot sauce, a can of hairspray, a Donald Duck clock, some scented vermiculite, and 2 of Suzi’s worn out bikinis for 302 of the most gorgeous pearls you have ever seen! We are stinking rich with pearls! We look at them before we go to bed. We look at them when we awake. We pause at midday just to run our fingers through their gun metal gray and black metallic hues. I chose each one individually and as silly as it seems, I think I can now understand how women are fixated on baubles. What is happening to me? Today I will return with a hammock, a flashlight, a broken headlamp, and more booze. I am a pearl whore.
Also – I’ve now eaten the giant coconut crab and turtle. Turtle is absolutely gourmet. Tastes like venison with the softness of tender brisket. I love turtle, but coconut crab. . . . eh, not so much. You gotta boil it for an hour (I hate burning that much propane) and it’s a ton of work for meat that doesn’t even approach Snow crab let alone Alaskan King.
Best to horde pearls and ask around for anyone having turtle tonight.
(I sent all the pearls home with my mom in Feb of 2008 so if you’re a thief – forget about them. She’s got them in a safe deposit box back in the USA)