Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Good Times in Toau

After a nice day sail from Fakarava's north pass we reached the false pass (a pass through the atoll's fringing reef that doesn't go all the way through) on the north western side of Toau called Anse Amyot (anse means cove). It is a unique place in the Tuamotus because not only is it a nice protected cove created by a false pass, but there are also about 15 moorings to tie up to. The moorings were installed by the couple who lives in Anse Amyot, Valentine and Gaston, and the payment they require is simply that you come ashore one night and have a feast with them for a reasonable fee. And what a feast it was with fresh tuna sashimi, fried fish, poisson cru, lobster focaccia, bbq lobster, rice, coconut bread, and a delicious coconut cake for dessert. Gaston catches all the fish and lobster himself with the help of his handy fish traps a lot of skill. Valentine has some killer recipes and is both a gifted cook and hostess. They both welcomed us into their lives as soon as we stepped ashore the first day and treated us like old friends for the rest of the week.

Our first full day in Anse Amyot was Jared's birthday. We did a dive on the wall outside of the lagoon with Ryan and the brits Mike and Hilda from the boat Quicksilver. Jared and I traded off using Ryan's spare tank which is why a lot the photos from the dive have Jared in them free diving. The wall was quite vertical and dropped off from about 20 feet to well beyond what we could see or dive to. There were no sharks but the coral looked pretty healthy. There also seemed to be less fish than we had seen at some other spots. The visibility was awesome as usual and the wow factor was high but it will be hard for any dive to come even close to the wow factor of that dive we did in Fakarava's north pass. We are so spoiled!

Since it happened to be Jared's birthday the day we met Valentine, she invited us to come ashore for a potluck dinner with our friends on Shalimar and Tuatara. Their old friend George was also there with his girlfriend Yael. George is a salty french guy who makes his living as a delivery captain and was bringing a fancy new catamaran to a charter company in Raietea in the Society Islands. A couple days earlier, George was out with Gaston fishing when everyone's worst nightmare happened. As he was placing the bag of bloody fish into the boat it slipped back out and a grey shark started heading right for him. Gaston told him to hold still and throw the bag of fish into the boat, but his fear got the best of him. He leaped half-way out of the water up onto the nearest coral head and the shark probably mistook his wiggling foot for a fleeing fish and went for it. Luckily, the bite was a gentle one and did not sever any major arteries, tendons, or nerves. Yael is a nurse and had all her medical supplies with her. She stitched him up and banned him from entering the water for a long time. She also was afraid to go back in the water for a few days even though all involved agreed that the bite had more to do with the bag full of wriggling bloody fish than with any sort of intensional shark on human violence.

Our pre-feast feast was delicious and full of laughter. Valentine speaks pretty good english and Gaston knows a few words, but his body language says it all. He's a total goof ball and very entertaining. George and Yael both spoke very good english, like most french people do thanks to their schooling, and we enjoyed their company thoroughly. Alex made brownies and Ryan made his now famous chocolate chip cookies. Yael made a cake and we sang happy birthday in french. We all pulled out our last bottles of booze and drank every last drop. Gaston had one too many drops and Valentine had to put him to bed early.

The next day we had our official feast after a perfect day of snorkeling and R&R. After stuffing ourselves to the gills we went inside to thank Valentine and Gaston and they invited to stay and hang out with them and an Austrian couple named Fleurian and Birgitte from the catamaran Fidelio. We shared many stories and laughed a lot. We learned that Anse Amyot has been in Valentine's family for as long as she can remember, or maybe it was her grandfather that first came there, I forget. Gaston came to help Valentine's brother with the fishing about 20 years ago and that's when Valentine met him. Gaston grew up on Tahiti near Port Phaeton. Valentine left the island to go live and work in Papeete for a while but then came back to help run the place when her brother became ill. She's been running the show with Gaston ever since. They harvest copra, fish, and pearls. They recently cut back on the pearling because catering to the cruising community has started taking up such a big part of their time. Ten years ago they would only see a handful of boats anchor in their little cove every year, now they have hundreds! Valentine's sister runs a small pension (hotel) on the island too with help from her nieces and cousins, but they all live in Fakarava most of the time it seems. Valentine told us about the good old days when they were all champion spear fishers. Her brother in particular was one of the best, able to dive very deep and spear very big fish. She also told us about one time when she saw a shark heading straight for her pregnant sister during a spear fishing competition and she had to spear the shark to save her!

The rest of the week is a blur of swimming, snorkeling, hiking, eating, singing, ukuleles, and just hanging out in paradise. We offered to give Valentine a hand with the preparations and serving of the next feast, a day that started with the ear splitting squeals of a pig in peril. Pork was on the menu for that evening. Alex and I helped prepare and serve the feast while Jared and Ryan sat around drinking beer. They were on dishes duty. Valentine's niece and cousins were on the island for the evening and after we were done with the dinner, we moved the party outside. Out came the ukuleles, and Kevin brought his guitar and his accordion. We sat around listening to some first class tahitian singing and music under a warm starry night. Our friend Vincent, who was crewing on a boat that was at the feast that night, joined us and donated a bottle of rum. Valentine mixed up some punch and the already very intoxicated Vincent drank some more. After pulling a couple of hilarious but painful looking stunts, we took him back to his boat. I only wish we had had a camera to preserve those moments and help sober Vincent understand why his face was swollen.

After a lunch time feast one day, we checked out Valentine's collection of black pearls, learned about pearl farming, and then played some petanque. Petanque is basically bocce ball but the balls are metal. All the islands around here are very serious about their pentaque and inter-island competitions are commonplace. It sounds like it's a big deal in France too. They also play for fun though, like Americans and bocce ball. Valentine and Gaston were both very good, as was George the salty frenchman. Ryan and Alex both turned out to be pretty good as well and Jared and I were definitely the worst of the lot. The last game we played I was teamed up with Valentine and we called ourselves the shark team. My competitive streak shone through at last and with the help of Valentine's superior skill we managed to defeat Gaston and Alex. I think Gaston is even more competitive than me and he was very surprised that we won. It was a great way to end the day.

After a couple of weather delays, we were finally set to leave. We spent one final happy hour with Gaston and Valentine. Valentine broke out the ukulele once again and Gaston rigged up a primitive bass with a bucket, a wooden broom handle, and a piece of rubbery line. Jared gave it a try and was a natural at it. Hopefully we can rig one up for our boat one of these days. I really wish we had ukulele too. Maybe we'll come across one down the road. Valentine talked about happy hours in the past where everyone brought a ukulele and had a big jam session/lesson. Sounds like a fun way to learn. Oh well, maybe next time! I sure hope we can make it back to Anse Amyot some day. Such an amazing place with amazing people and so many good times! Thank you Valentine and Gaston!

1 comment:

V said...

At least my whole face wasn't swollen, it was just my eyes. And no, I am not stalking you guys, I stumbled upon your blog while looking for your facebooks and what not. You pop up pretty promptly in google, you know, so that's good.