Jul 12

Meeting Ken. Pronounced …. I still don’t know

Tag: routeJonathon Haradon @ 2:52 pm

(concerning events: June 20th)

After a couple of days in Fakarava, Matt and Karen wanted to beat a hasty leave to Toau, another atoll a short day sail away.  Another couple, Mike and Hyo aboard Io, were anchored there.  Mike and Hyo are awesome fun people from Canada.  They have done a fair bit of rock-climbing, are adventurous and generally see the world similarly.  Mike’s insistence that you cannot buy a new, quality, made-to-last toaster for any amount of money anywhere in the world notwithstanding.  He says the same thing about chain-saws, a subject upon which, given his Canadian background, he can more convincingly provide expert opinion.  They are also young, young 30’s, a rarity in the cruising world.  Matt and Karen, after having been predominantly on their own for the last two months exploring nearly or completely deserted locales, were, despite my arrival, still desperate for more interaction with more people.  So while I might have wanted to stick around Fakarava for a while, it was my very first place after all, I easily deferred and we were off to Toau, I content in the thought that more adventures would be waiting.  Mike apparently had a spear gun.  And a machete.  More adventures would definitely be waiting.

The first morning in Toau I was again up at 6 am.  Despite having played a game of Carcassone (a fun tile-based make cities and roads and farms and score points thing) until midnight or so with Matt, Karen, Mike and Hyo.  I swam to shore, and starting walking along the water’s edge, lagoon side.  It was not evident that anyone lived here, though we knew Mike had hung with a couple of locals, Martin and Wallace, that lived 3 miles south.  Martin and Wallis lived on different motu’s, the little islands that make up the atoll ring, and so rarely got together.  They communicated with each other every night via a smoke signal, to let one another know they were doing OK.  So didn’t think that I would be running into anyone, but about 20 minutes into my slow stroll along the lagoon, a voice calls out in Hello.  “Bonjour!”  I reply hesitantly, not wanting to insinuate that I spoke any other words in French, but also wanting not to be an ugly American and presume English capabilities.

Ken and I thus met.  I was the only person from any of the sailboats he had met and was eager to interact.  You pronounce his name like it appears, however the ‘n’ is very soft to the point where if you just say the ‘K’ and the ‘e’ like you were about to say ‘Ken’ but then left off the ‘n’, you would probably be most correct.  Retrospectively, I don’t think this was his given name, but rather the name he gave to foreigners.  Ken spoke some English and I was rapidly becoming excellent in Pantomime, so we hit it off well.  He asked if I wanted some breakfast, some coconut, and so found one of his specialized tools for copra farming he uses to cut down coconuts.  It was essentially a 10 foot long pole, bamboo I think, with a small curved scythe like blade on the end.  Reach up and hook it around a coconut, then cut and run.  So you don’t get hit by falling coconuts of course.  Out comes the machete.  Top priority in Tahiti is to buy me a machete.  With a few quick hacks the husk is off, and a small hole the interior nut is chipped.  I am now drinking coconut water straight from a coconut, while sitting on the beach, talking with a Tuomotian.  At 7 am in the morning.  This day is starting off well.

Ken and I continue talking.  I desperately wish in this moment that I could speak fluent French.  The interaction would have been so much deeper.  This feeling has happened few other times so far during my three weeks here, and we only have another three weeks or so in French speaking territory.  But in this moment, I definitely wish I could speak French.  We talk about what he does for a living, which is harvesting copra.  Copra is the meat of older coconuts which is then dried.  It is then sent to Tahiti to make coconut oil.  Or something like that.  Once I’ve finished the coconut water, he takes it from me and breaks it in half with the blunt of the machete.  A flick of the wrist, the machete slices through the air, and he has carved from the outer edge of the interior nut a spoon like utensil which he hands to me and motions that I should dig out the jelly like material inside of the coconut.  More delicious yummy goodness for breakfast.

Ken then asks if I fish, and I unfortunately have to reply that, no, I don’t fish, but I very much want to learn.  So he motions that we should go over to the ocean side of the atoll.  It’s a quick 5 minute walk away and along the way he picks up one piece of fishing gear.  An eight foot long perfectly straight wooden pole with three metal pieces of sharpened rebar on the end.  This is a traditional Polynesian spear.  We are going spear fishing.  Polynesian style.

Ken walks up to the edge of the water looking for fish.  On the ocean side of every atoll I have been on, there is a small reef between 20 and 60 feet away from shore where the waves break.  the reef is submerged during hide time and exposed during low tide.  It’s about midway right now, the tide rising, and here, (not everywhere as I will find out a week later when walking along a similar reef I am knocked over by a wave and sustain small cuts from the coral reef on my fingers, ankle, thumb, calf and a deeper, larger abrasion on my back) we can safely walk along the reef as well.  As Ken walks up to the water’s edge, he motions that he is looking for fish and sometimes points a few out.  We are looking mainly for parrot fish who with their bright blue-green skin are extremely easy to spot in the two foot deep shallows between the reef and shore.  Moments later he spots one close.  He creeps  slowly at first, then a quick burst of speed and the spear is then flying into the water.  Splashing the six feet over to the spear he pulls it up.  First throw: one fish.  He then hands the spear to me.

‘That didn’t look to hard,’ I think, knowing full well that a lifetime of practice went into that throw.  He helps me stalk some fish.  I try the slow stalking method, but he encourages me to get upon them faster and so I run up and then give the spear a toss.  Laughable.  LAUGHABLE!  the spear didn’t even make it to the water cleanly, deflecting through the air and hitting the water nearly broadside.  I laughed.  Ken laughed.  I went to try again.  I spotted more fish, and this time the spear at least entered the water cleanly.  I picked it up, but no fish came with it.  Half a dozen more tries, kept me hilariously occupied, Ken encouraging me on.  I could have gone for another two hours I was enjoying myself so, but I think that Ken was tiring of my ineptitude and was ready to head back.  I don’t blame him.

As we were walking back, we again talked about coconuts, him pointing out which ones were good for eating and what stages the coconuts were in.  As we arrived at the atoll shore, he said I should return at 10 am to do some more fishing with him and his cousin.  I asked (pantomime combined with embarrassingly short phrases) if the other people from Syzygy and Io can join.  I’m thinking Mike from Io and Matt would love to meet Ken.  Mike had met Ken’s cousin, Martin, who would also be fishing with us, but not Ken.

At ten Matt, Mike and I head back into shore in Mike’s dinghy.  Ours is not reliable.  O.K., it’s a janky piece of shit and we have tried our best to inadvertently lose it or ruin it.  (see Karen’s blog, and… just kidding.  Kind of.)

Ken and Martin take us down the shore a bit to a small little cove.  We wait on shore while they take what looks to be an incomprehensibly jumbled net 200 feet away to the other side of the cove.  To my amazement, they are able to  stretch the net out with little to no tangles; it was perfectly laid out to unfold nicely.  The net is a mesh of super thin mono filament or nylon, extremely hard for fish to see.  A fish hits it and will quickly become tangled.It also has floats along one edge and weights on another to form a wall of net.  It ends up being about 80 feet long and once it is stretched out, they motion for us to begin walking towards it.  Mike has said that he has seen this and that we should grab sticks and bang the water.  So Matt and I go looking for something to hit the water with.  We then proceed to wade through the water towards the net slapping the water with sticks in an apparent effort to scare the fish and corral them towards the net.  Three white guys walking through the water banging on the surface with tiny sticks.  It must have looked side-splittingly funny.  I felt ridiculous.  Matt later said the same.

Once we have arrived at the net, Martin and Ken start checking the net for fish and throwing ones that were caught onto the bank next to us.  Matt spots one in the net.  We’ve caught four fish!  One large parrot fish is the big prize.  Back to shore, we begin to scale them.  Ken and Martin tell us that all of the fish are ours; we can’t thank them enough.  More people in a seemingly unending string of wonderfully nice local people.  Willing to share their generosity, kindness, and skills with foreigners.  You just have to reach out a little and show you are open to it.

At the boat, Mike shows us how to clean and gut the fish, and says that since these are our first fish that we’ve done that to, we have to have a piece of sashimi from the parrot fish, right then and there.  It was excellent.  We then work up a poisson cru, a popular Polynesian dish where the fish is steeped in lime juice.  Like ceviche, this kind of ‘cold cooks’ the fish.  We then cut up some late development coconuts to get at some of the coconut meat.  You are supposed to grate the coconut meat, then put the shavings into a cheese cloth and squeeze.  Out comes a delicious milky substance.  Add that and some cucumber and onion to the fish.  Poisson cru.  We started with a cheese grater for the coconut.  Matt upgraded us to a power drill with a sanding bit.  That was fun.

That led to dinner, another game of Carcassone, and the day was done.  Thanks to Ken for showing me a great day!

Leave a Reply