Ahe and Rangiroa

Just this once, this blog is being written far far away from Arctic Loon.  I’m currently somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, just like Arctic Loon was a few weeks ago, but this time I’m 10,000 feet above sea level and flying in the opposite direction. There is something very surreal about flying over an ocean in 8 hours that took a month of hard labor, sea sickness, and sleep deprivation to cross. The distance that I’m flying feels more significant and I have a deep respect for all that ocean and the adventure it creates. Above all, this flight solidifies in my mind our choice to cross that beautiful monster below by small sailboat, rather than cruise ship or plane.  I never could have appreciated exactly where I was in the way I did, if I had had the luxury of arriving via a couple connecting flights from Seattle. When I looked east from the island of Fatu Hiva, I could actually picture the distance until the water hit land. What a gift that was. It helped me get a sense of the scope of our whole planet.

Anyway, I’ll ease up on the philosophical talk. This will be the last post written by yours truly (Emma), as I’m off the boat to start my life in Denver. But something tells me I’ll be back on Arctic Loon one day. Before I left, I collected as many photos as I could to bring to the land of wifi, and here I am… so good news! This is the photo post!

But first, I’ll tell you about the two islands I was fortunate enough to visit in the Tuomoto Archipelago before I left. I should first explain that virtually every island in the Tuomotos is actually an “atoll.” An atoll is essentially a volcanic crater covered almost entirely in water, so that just the highest edge of the rim is sticking out of the ocean, making land. On a map, they’d look like a thin green rubber band of land sitting in the middle of the ocean. All of them have at least a few parts of the land where water spills out from the lagoon within into the ocean, and vice versa. And most, have passages where this spill over is deep enough for a sail boat to pass through. This coupled with crystal clear turquoise water, as you can imagine, creates some spectacular anchorages within the lagoon. It also creates fun thin islands to explore, in which one could walk from the beach on one end to the beach on the other in 30 seconds.

Due to the fact that we arrived in the dark, we almost didn’t stop there. And oh what a shame that would have been. There wasn’t much information in our guide books about Ahe. But they did say, if you want authenticity in the Tuomotos, this was your place. We anchored just off of their village of 200 people, next to some beautiful stilted houses built over the water. We took the dinghy in, and discovered just a few low key shops, a church, many friendly people, and a jewelry shop that sold cheaper pearls that had been farmed right there in the atoll. (I’ll talk more about the incredible pearl industry in a bit.) We bought a few things (pearl jewelry, as well as some homemade honey), and before we left, we ventured to ask if there was anywhere we could buy some coconuts. This was a funny question because coconuts were just everywhere here. Their abundance ironically puts boaters who desire them in a tough spot, because the locals could just grab one in their back yard whenever they want. So they never thought to sell them. Of course, some boaters have been known to take them (another other fruits) without asking, which is quite impolite, and has given boaters a bad reputation in some places. So we wanted to do it the right way.

The shop’s owner Celestine had her niece Fanaiti take us to her house, where her husband Edward knocked some fresh ones off of his tree for us. Not only that, but he also gave us a full explanation of all of the plants in his garden, and showed us how to properly crack the coconuts with a  machete – a much needed exercise after Captain Diana battle?d our first one with our drill back on the boat. We were in awe of their kindess. But it didn’t/ stop there. Fanaiiti also invited us to a flower decorating event she was hosting at the church that afternoon. We weren’t sure exactly what that meant, but anything with these friendly locals was our cup of tea.

We showed up at 3:00, met some wonderful women, and learned how to braid giant banana leaves into beautiful canvases to be displaced on the church walls. It took us some time, but we got the hang of it eventually. Our favorite part was socializing with the women though. At the end, everyone went around in a circle and talked about what they had learned. All of them thanked us for coming, which was touching because all we wanted to do was thank them for welcoming us.

The next morning, we went to another beautiful church service, similar to the one we attended on Easter. Once again, we were welcomed with open arms, and the music was astounding.
But because I had a flight to catch, we took off after that for a 24 hour passage to the atoll Rangiroa.

Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the word, which essentially means to the naked eye, it just looks like a long skinny island. You can look straight across to the other side of the enclosed circle, but it looks like it’s just an endless ocean. When I flew out however, I was lucky enough to get a spectacular view of the entire thing. Check out the photos below.

With several flights in and out a day, this atoll is more “touristy” than most in the Tuomotos, but to your average traveler, it wouldn’t be considered touristy at all. It’s one of the more remote places you can get to by plane. Still, there are several hotels including a few beautiful luxury ones that line the water. Many people travel here from around the world for the diving and snorkeling. The Tuomotos are known to have some of the best diving spots in the world, particularly because…..drumroll please…… there is LIVE CORAL. Throughout this entire journey, Anne has proclaimed that she is “chasing coral” just like the film (watch it if you haven’t – it’ll make you cry). Because of climate change, nearly all of the world’s once vibrant and colorful coral is dead or dying. We’ve searched and searched but had yet to find any still alive on this trip until Rangiroa. And even here, it wasn’t nearly as vibrant as it once was.

Nevertheless, the coral we did see provided a perfect habitat for masses and masses of bright, colorful, funky looking, and huge fish. On top of that, sharks (friendly ones) were aplenty here. We didn’t see any while snorkeling, but got to watch several big ones swim casually through the crystal clear lagoon from the deck at one of the resorts. 

Besides watching the wildlife, we spent our couple days on Rangi renting bikes, exploring the town, splurging on a couple nice resort meals, and visiting the local police to file the paperwork that would allow me off the official crew list and to fly back home without paying a huge fee. We visited a pearl farm one day, where we got to learn about the looong complicated process of growing pearls (a major industry in the tuomotos).  We also played a lot of Settlers of Catan, which I’m proud to say I’ve gotten Anne and Diana hooked on. Be warned future crew members: Learn this game well before you arrive, or you will be defeated.

Tuomoto Photos:

At Edward's house learning about coconuts

A braided coconut leaf crown given to me by a child at the church

Sunday church service

Edward, showing us how to prepare cocounuts

Making braided coconut leaves for the church

Trying to break open a coconut


Rangi from the plane

If you look closely you can see the other side of the atoll on the far left

Kia Ora resort

Biking to town

Learning about pearl farming

Settlers of Catan

Picking up trash on the little island off of Rangiroa we visited for snorkeling


Celebrating Emma's last night at the Kia Ora resort

Settlers of Catan

Marquesas Photos:

Swimming with the manta rays

Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

My tattoo:5 humans - 4 for the incredible women who crossed the pacific on Artic Loon, and an extra for all the other badass women of the world.

Pomplemouse! (like grapefruit)

Fatu Hiva

Only HALF of our bananas

Ua Huka

Arriving Fatu Hiva

Kayaking in Fatu Hiva


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