Saturday, June 20, 2009


An atoll is the result of centuries of coral reefs that began around the bases of volcano cones. Over time the hollow volcano cones have disappeared leaving nothing but a circle of reef circling a lagoon where the volcano once stood. Often the reef is covered with soil which allows coconut palms and other vegetation to grow. Rather than being one perfect encircling line, there are small islets and large islets connected by sand or reefs awash. The word "motu" means islet. So the Tuomotus are many motus. Seventy eight atolls comprise this group of islands, also a part of French Polynesia.

Approaching the Tuomotus is a different experience than approaching the Marquesas. There was no question we would see the sheer fortresses of Marquesan islands. But as we arrived in the Tuomotus we passed a few without even seeing them. As we approached our destination, we didn't see it until less than 8 miles away. In the past, the Tuomotus were known as "the Low and Dangerous Islands". Without radar, GPS, depth sounders, motors, and accurate maps, it was easy to run aground. Even so, Robert Louis Stevenson (and many other traders and naval ships) came and went successfully in the 1800s.

So now we're anchored in a calm lagoon inside of the atoll, Kaeuhi, 260 miles northeast of Tahiti. The water is flat and still, undisturbed by ocean swells or wind waves. The water is a light aqua green and there are coral heads between us and land. We have to be careful when we motor in that our outboard doesn't bang into the top of one. The people on this atoll don't get many visitors and seem much more open and friendly (and speak less English) as a result. Despite that barrier, our first afternoon in town, we were invited to join two men practicing their javelin throws. In the open field in front of the tidy white crosses and white fence of the town cemetery, we saw many kids playing soccer and baseball. Also, there was a 20 ft. pole with a coconut impaled at the top. 4 or 5 spears were sticking out of it. We watched as the two men aimed and fired their weapons, over and over. They saw us watching and invited us over. The spears were made out of whittled coconut wood, slim and straight with sharpened points of rebar at the tips. When the tip sank into the coconut, it made a very satisfying thunk! They're practicing for a local competition on July 14, Bastille Day.

As far as we can tell, the industry here is fishing, pearl farming, and copra production (copra is the dried coconut meat that is exported and made into coconut oil). The pearl stations are wooden platforms out in the lagoon with small houses on them. Quite picturesque.

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