April 26, 2011

Rangiroa, Tuamotu - An Amazing Four-day "Au Secteur" Motu Fishing Expedition

April 13-17, 2011


Nāwa‘a (Randy) and I have just returned from an amazing four-day Rangiroa motu (small islet) fishing expedition with our new friends from Tiputa – Arthur and Lisette Nouveau, Teuira (one of the boss fishermen), his nephew Pori, and Mìchel who is Teuira’s fishing partner. Mìchel is also famous here, along with his wife, for making the best Faraoa coco (sweet coconut bread) in Tiputa.  You can buy their freshly made Faraoa coco at Ilona’s store - and we’ve been eating plenty fresh from his warm oven (another story).

Arthur was fortunate to borrow his friend Choti’s boat, Temataitoariki.  Choti is the local Tiputa channel “taxi boat” owner.  It seems that when Arthur goes away to Pape‘ete, Tahiti he lends Choti his Isuzu truck because Choti’s Land Rover does not haul his boats out of the water very well. In exchange, Choti lends Arthur one of his boats when needed.

We began our voyage by crossing the 25km (15.5 miles) lagoon from North to the South (and about 75km, 46.5 miles, from East to West). One of the largest atolls in the world, the Rangiroa lagoon could easily fit the entire island of Tahiti within.  We cruised past many motu and hoa (small channels), some still with working copra farms.  Copra, produced from dried coconut meat, is rich in vegetable fat (palmatin) and refined into oil for food and cosmetics.

Nāwa‘a began trolling a black 1 oz. popper off the stern of the boat with his “Mark White” lures, handmade by Mark White on our home island of Kaua‘i http://www.markwhitelures.com.  At first our friends were very wary about what Nāwa‘a was up to but the first fish he quickly pulled in slowly began the long process of observing a “new” fishing technique. As Nāwa‘a started to catch fish after fish, they were willing to tryout one of the lures (½ oz. white popper) and then they started to catch. Over the next four days, their attitude began to change about these unfamiliar lures. Our friends were also unaccustomed to the “whipping and speed” technique that is required for these types of lures. It seems it will take several more weeks before the men actually begin to try this technique. They seem to be very reluctant to add this method of fishing to their well-familiar repertoire.  They are very loyal to their mode of fishing as taught to them by their Tupuna (Kupuna in Hawaiian – their elders). This is completely understandable....

We arrived the first afternoon on a motu near “Tehaare” (southwest side of Rangiroa atoll) where we began to set-up our camp for the night.  The men crossed the somewhat-shallow lagoon to another nearby motu where they gathered Koai wood (Koai, Maii, Kouaii, Taii, Badamier - also known as “False Kamani” in Hawai‘i, but it’s actually an “Indian Almond” tree; Terminalia grabata, T. grabata. The sweet nuts are a local favorite).

The gathered Koai wood was used to build our temporary sleeping fare (hale in Hawaiian, or small house).  Very seriously, Teuira guided Arthur and Nāwa‘a with his detailed instructions on the correct way to accomplish this. He said that he has to build a new fare each time they come here because other people quickly use the wood for fire.

In the meantime, Lisette, Pori, and I waded out to a nearby sandbar and tried our luck with fishing, although I have to say I was so amazed with the many large colorful clams of purple and blue (Pahua, not sure of the species name as there were a variety of clams and our friends just referred to them as Pahua).  I did not fish at all here, and we three just enjoyed cooling off in the peaceful, calm water.

The men did catch fish though – Nāwa‘a quickly caught a beautiful multi-blue grouper fish and we were very excited until our friends informed us it was probably a “ciguatera” fish and we would be very sick if we ate it.  
DO NOT EAT - Our friends said it could have ciguatera poisoning...
So, he continued to fish and quickly caught a few Papio instead (Papio is the Hawaiian name for young Jacks or Trevallys of the Carangidae family).  Teuira decided to go spear fishing and soon caught two parrotfish, Paati/Tatue/uhu, or Scarus sp.  

Lisette and Teuira cleaned the many varieties of fish.  Lisette does not like to clean Paati because their large scales are very difficult to scrape and the meat is very tough to cut (although very tender to eat), and I agree.  Fortunately, this was not a problem for Teuira. We would definitely eat well tonight.

Mìchel gathered coconuts and Arthur grated the rich meat to make “coco au lait” (fresh coconut milk).  I believe one has not truly lived until they experience freshly grated coconut milk, especially with their morning coffee… There are no words to describe this.

Later that night Nāwa‘a went to catch spiny lobsters (uka??, Panilurus pencillatus?) with Teuira and Mìchel. He told me it was a long trek through the thick coconut grove and they cut green coconut leaf to mark their trail (kinda’ like “Hansel and Gretel”). They ended up encountering an area of extremely sharp stones (brought up from the sea by a past cyclone) that were densely covered with huge ancient haa trees (Faa, Pandanus sp. - there are many Polynesian names depending on the stage and/or color of the leaves and fruit; commonly known as Hala or Lauhala in Hawai‘i). The men searched for several hours to find the path across this zone to no avail. Instead, they listened for the sounds of Tupa, or coconut land crabs (Cardisoma carnifex?), rustling in the haa leaves and began to gather them. The men believed they had securely tied the tupa and placed them in aluminum cans that they had strapped to their backs. Unfortunately, while we were all sleeping the tupa managed to escape… Unreal!  At one time, Tupuna believed tupa to be messengers of the gods. 

The next day, Mìchel caught several octopus (fe‘e, or he‘e in Hawaiian). I’ve eaten octopus many times and quite enjoy it grilled on the BBQ, cooked with curried coconut milk, or made Japanese-style as sushi, as well as seen many people in Hawai‘i catch them.  I quickly learned that our friends, except for Mìchel and Teuira, did not care to eat them and thought it odd.  We were in the process of packing-up so I was not able to take photos of this.

The winds starting picking up, and although we had originally planned on staying here for another night, Teuira decided we needed to leave and head for one of his family’s motu (between L’île aux Récifs and Motu Otepipi), now a deserted pearl farm.  Nāwa‘a continued to troll with his Kaua‘i Mark White lures and the other men were beginning to warm up to what he was accomplishing as he was the only one continually catching fish. Nāwa‘a caught at least four and we knew we would all eat luxuriously that night.

After several hours we arrived at Teuira’s family’s motu and former pearl farm. We felt so fortunate to have arrived on this oasis.  We would joyfully stay for two incredible nights.

The second day on Teuira’s motu (our third day) was spent fishing, fishing, fishing, and eating….

The fourth morning we packed-up and went to the motu of “Otepipi” which is now a deserted copra village. We explored a small sector of Otepipi village where there is an existing church.  Rangiroa locals still embrace special pilgrimages here. The church, dedicated to Sainte Anne, is remarkably powerful and Nāwa‘a and I were not prepared to experience the tremendous range of emotions we felt here.  Our reactions reminded us of a church we once visited years ago in Rocamadour, France that was partly devoted to mariners lost at sea (even though the church there was situated in the Dordogne many miles from the shore). I’m sure this church of Sainte Anne has many parallel dedications since the sea is life for the motu.

We were also surprised to see several large Tamanu trees (our friends have told us that Tamanu is their Paumotu word for Temanu and Tamanu is the way in which they spelled it for us, Kamani is our Hawaiian word, Calophyllum inophyllum). Several growing in front of the church must easily be more than 100-years old. We understand that there were many more of these beautiful, sacred, and very functional trees here, although numerous cyclones and tsunami have destroyed most of them. Tamanu is a fine-grained golden-brown hardwood, and was traditionally used for crafting Polynesian religious Tiki images, as well as ‘umete (‘umeke, or bowls).  Today in Hawai‘i, Kamani are very rarely seen as large as this, although there are several beautiful Kamani trees located at Mauna Ala, Nu‘uanu, O‘ahu, the Royal burial grounds of many kings and queens of Hawai‘i.

Since a large squall was approaching, Teuira decided it was time to make our way back across the lagoon to our village of Tiputa.  The men placed Lisette and me near the front of the boat and covered us with a large tarp to protect us from the choppy water and rain. It was a very long and bumpy ride back to the other side and we were (as well as my humbug neck/knee and Lisette’s bad back) very glad to finally return to the calmness…

Maitaki (Māuruuru, Mahalo, Thank you!) for stopping by our little travel journal and taking the time to visit our photos and read about our adventures.

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