Gifts from the Vaitahu School

Homework for the kids: go fetch fruit for Mr. Littée and the trimaran!

We returned the following morning to receive a big box of fruit in appreciation for the lesson that Pierre taught. There were several big pamplemousse (the sweet Polynesian grapefruit), limes, oranges, and a pile of “pommes”, which reminds us of an apple mixed with a jicama.

The class’ teacher Felix is also the school director. In a casual lime green singlet, with the ubiquitous Marquesan tattoo on his forearm, he invited Pierre and crew to his office, where he made a proposal: “Pierre, let’s swap roles for a semester! I’ll teach your class in America, and you come to Vaitahu to be school director.”

Pierre wasn’t quite ready to migrate to Tahuata – after all, he wasn’t sure if Felix would be able to pour drinks at Cavallo Point, which is Pierre’s night job. They compromised and decided to connect their two classrooms as pen pals. The kids are looking forward to practicing their English with new friends in California!

Photo: Pierre and Chris with the Vaitahu class. Chris is also a teacher in middle school English in Monterey, CA.

Mr. Littée visits the Vaitahu School

It was just supposed to be a brief school visit to meet the kids. Next thing you know, Pierre took over and began teaching a class to the oogle-eyed 8 year olds.

Do you guys know the Fibonacci series? asked Mr. Littée. No? Well heres how it goes, he scribbled in animated style on the white board, alternating between English (which they were learning) and French (which the kids speak at school). The class teacher and school Principal, named Felix, would chime in occasionally in Marquesan to add explanations.

We were in Vaitahu, the main village of the island of Tahuata. It is located just North of Hapatoni, about a mile up, nestled in a large open bay. The class was a mix of 3rd to 5th graders; Pierre happens to be a third grad teacher back at San Rafael, California. Within a few minutes there was a crowd of kids from the next door classroom coming to watch Mr. Littée.

The kids were loving it! Our little meet-and-greet had turned into a 45 minute classroom experience. Leave it to Mr. Littée to share his love of teaching everywhere he goes.

Feast à la Marquises

Some meals get etched into our memory banks. This is one of them!

Tahina made us a Marquesan extravaganza with four fish dishes, each better than the last: poisson cru, grilled fish, sashimi, and tuna carpaccio. The side dishes included a delicious breadfruit salad and fei (the local variety of plantain).

All the food came from around the island and was simply divine. Talk about “moan of approval”…

To complete the five star service, we all got showers and fresh laundry. How often do you leave a restaurant smelling better than when you arrived?!

The night was capped with card games, magician tricks by Pierre, ukulele songs by Tahina, and Captain K passing out from food coma on the hostess’ bed. All very reminiscent of a fine Thanksgiving feast back home!

Ps. Deena and Spencer met Tahina during our first visit to Hapatoni, island of Tahuata. You guys were here with us in spirit!

Madam Tahina

This sweet lady made us a true feast for dinner. Tahina worked in a restaurant in Tahiti for several years and is a incredible chef… She returned to her native village of Hapatoni when her sister fell ill. She also did a few loads of our laundry in exchange for perfume and lotion! Here she is shown strumming the ukelele with her nephew singing along. The village of Hapatoni feels like a big happy family.

Hapatoni: View from the Mountain

The village of Hapatoni, on the south-western tip of Tahuata Island, is known for its artisans, especially wood and bone carvers. We were coming for other reasons: to pick up our laundry and eat food! To build up an appetite, we hiked up the mountain. The village is on the bottom left, with a wharf for small boats. Aldebaran is anchored on the right side of the picture, over a mile away; elsewhere in this bay is too deep for comfortable anchoring. The steep mountainsides that surround this village plummet into the ocean. In the distance to the north, the island of Hiva Oa is visible.

Not Monterey

Summer vacations: one of the nicest perks of being a school teacher! Chris looks like he’s as far from his home in Monterey, CA, as is possible… 80 degree water and air temperatures being the notable differences, along with the coconut trees on the beach. First day in Tahuata Island, Marquesas Archipelago

Manta Rays!

Manta Rays are sometimes very shy, and sometimes very gregarious. We’ve had the best luck spotting them when we are paddling around. Perhaps they aren’t too keen on the sound of the boat motor.

In Hanavave, Sabrina and I were paddling our SUPs in the early morning and came across a school of 6-8 Manta Rays, feeding in the shallows by the point. We wished we had our snorkel and masks!

That afternoon all four of us went looking for them aboard the Lambordinghy. No luck! We snorkeled around a big arch, watching small colorful fish around the rock walls.

We went to the opposite side of the bay to look for Mantas. The fish were very sparse. Furthermore, the water was fairly turbid due to river sediment. This seems typical near shore in the Marquesas; hence this archipelago is not well-known for snorkeling.

On the other hand, the currents at this latitude bring a lot of plankton to the surface. This doesn’t help the visibility, but it attracts a lot of pelagic (open ocean) marine life. This is why Manta Rays are fairly common here, along with deeper water fish like tuna.

As the light was fading, we were just going to have a final swim. Our skiff was drifting along and Sabrina jumped in the water. She immediately poked her head out of the water:

“Mantas, directly below us!”

I plunged into the water. Deena and Spencer quickly fumbled and put on their masks, leaning precariously over the dinghy’s edge. We all saw the two Manta Rays just six feet below Sabrina. They did a slow sweep by her, then gently flipped upside down and went into deeper water.

“Whoa!” We all exclaimed. “They were so close!” It was wonderful to have a brief moment in the proximity of the elusive Manta Rays.

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Night Snorkeling

Although the Marquesas isn’t well known for its diving, there is one marine animal that loves to cruise its steep shorelines: the Manta Ray.

We heard Mantas were around Tahuata, but they remained elusive. We wanted to try a new strategy here: use night lights to attract the plankton, Mantas’ favorite food.

This was also Deena’s first time snorkeling at night. It is always exciting to jump into the dark ocean, so full of foreboding mysteries and scary critters that you can’t see. Like the boogies monster under the bed, however, such fears are usually unfounded, and we get to see a new twilight world underwater.

Schools of fish were attracted to our lights. A tiny juvenile fish (called a moorish idol) deciding to be our friend; he kept trying to scamper into Spencer’s shorts. A weird marine worm came hitchhiking in Sabrina’s wetsuit, the cause of a long study afterwards.

Although we didn’t find the Mantas on this snorkel, the night time discoveries didn’t disappoint!

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Escape to Tahuata

The island of Tahuata is a perfect escape from Atuona Harbor, just 7 nautical miles away. We spent a very relaxing four days there. Between its uninhabited bays and two villages, which are renown for their fine craftsmanship, there is a bit of everything.

Tahuata is a small island lacking large rivers. With less sediment flowing, water clarity is better and several beaches are sandy and idyllic. This is somewhat rare in the Marquesas, a land of extreme topography!

What isn’t rare around here are rainbows. We’ve never seen so many…! Almost every afternoon the sun sets in the west and illuminates the dark rain clouds piling in the eastern slopes of the mountains.

Rainbows are in a special category – no matter how many you’ve seen, they never get old. Every rainbow is a joy to witness, especially from the comfort of our cockpit.