Monday, August 31, 2015


Happy Birthday S! We hope you are having a great birthday! We wish we could be together to celebrate it. 

We’ve been thinking of you a lot - especially when we see the kids on their way to school from the motus. Motus are the little islets that have formed on top of the walls of the volcanoes. As the volcanoes subside - sink – the peaks become the islands and the little low spits of sand that form on the coral where the walls were are called motus. Between the two is the lagoon which can be anywhere from a couple of feet deep to hundreds of feet deep.

For the people living on the motus this is also how they get to town to shop, go to church and visit friends. How would you like to go to school in a boat every day?! These kids literally have door to door service!

Because the islands in the Societies have steep mountains at their center, everything is built near the water which means that the schoolyards are often on the waterfront as well.

When we were in the Tuamotu island group anchored near the south pass there was a lot of coral and the water was pretty shallow as you can see from this shot under the boat. 

To keep our anchor chain off of the amazing coral formations we put buoys on it. Here is Uncle Darren adjusting the floats to keep the coral safe.

Fortunately the water was so clear we could just swim or row over our anchor each day to check that it wasn’t moving towards any coral. This also meant we could see the sharks clearly!  Here is one from when we were snorkeling in the pass. It is a Mauri, a black tipped shark, about 4 feet long. We think the little long fish above it might be ‘Aupapa (Flutemouths) and the one below it with the little bit of yellow before its’ tail is definitely a Maitoa ’au (Whitecheek Surgeonfish)!

Here are some of the fish from the same pass. We’re not sure what they are - we are really wishing we had bought the fish guidebook for here.

We did see, but didn’t get good pictures of some Paraha Ave (Longfin Bannerfish) and Ume Tahiti (Shortnose Unicornfish) which are really fun looking! I’m sure you can find some pics with Google.

In some societies they have 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' monkeys. In Bora Bora they have 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil' tikis! 

This cookie is a bit small for someone as big as our buddy Andy, but we thought it might be just about the right size for you! Happy birthday and we hope your piece of cake is bigger than this cookie!

Lots of love and hugs,
Aunt Jodi and Uncle Darren

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Sonya!!! Taha’a Vanilla Tour

Happy Birthday Sonya! We hope you are having a great one! 
We thought you might like to see a bit of a vanilla farm for your birthday so we’ve been saving this one from when we visited Taha’a. Darren had to stay with the boat as the anchorage was a bit sketch, but Jodi and our friends from s/v Wairua went in to shore and walked over the mountain a couple of valleys on a “Quest For Vanilla”. It was a hot day and we probably only walked about five miles to get there, though with the heat and steep switchbacks it felt more like ten! Fortunately, we got a ride a good bit of the way back (the steepest bit! Yahoo!).

These Lobster Claw Flowers (heliconia rostrata) have nothing to do with vanilla, we just thought they were fun and wanted to share them with you!

We found the Maison de la Vanille just as we were wondering if we had taken a wrong turn and about a half hour or so after they had closed for the day. They were relaxing on the porch of their home out front and after seeing that we had walked to get there, offered to open up and give us the tour anyhow, thank goodness! If you go, the best time to be there is in the morning as that is when the beans are out in the sun to dry and the flowers are open. The flowers are closed in the afternoon so we didn’t get to see them even though it is bloom season.

The vast majority of “Tahitian Vanilla” (Vanilla tahitensis - different in size and flavor from the Mexican vanilla we are used to) is actually raised on Taha’a and some comes from as far away as Hiva Oa, but of course, Tahiti is a much more recognizable name so it is all labeled “Tahitian”. Can you imagine Hood River pears being called "Seattle Pears"?!

We have seen Tahitian vanilla raised two ways in our travels, either under shade cloth to protect it from birds, wind, sun, etc. or out in the open. Our wonderful tour guide (whose name I unfortunately have lost) explained that her father trained her to only use vanilla that is grown in the open. It is more challenging to get a higher yield that way but he believes that it makes a stronger, more robust bean. Makes sense.

Vanilla vines trained on Tia Iri trees
Maison de la Vanille has a small plot for show next to their processing shed where we were able to see the vines up close. They are planted in one meter long pieces with several around each tree. The trees they use are the Tia Iri tree, chosen for the balance of shade and sunlight they allow through their leaves to the vanilla vines below.  The vines can begin to be pollinated in their second year but again, her dad prefers to wait till the third year to cultivate a stronger vine.  Each individual flower is hand pollinated – we never could get a straight answer as to why, “it’s always been done that way”, though I imagine the vines must have been imported and the bees that are the natural pollinators for these particular orchids don’t live here. (For a fascinating look at pollination, check out the BBC “Private Life of Plants” series, especially the bit on orchids in Part 3  “Flowering”). After pollination it takes 9 months for the beans to develop. Just like a baby!

These beans were actually in Tahuata at a house we called the Garden of Eden!

The beans are picked green and brought to the processing shed where they age in a shaded room till they turn brown. They are then given a bath (water only) and placed in bags made of a special cloth that is never washed with soap so that no odor is transferred to the beans.
Next they are laid out on these racks every day to age in the sun. Each day at about 2pm, depending on the weather, they are brought back into the ‘spa’ part of the shed and the bags of beans are placed in wooden boxes called ‘saunas’! They rest in the saunas overnight to keep them warm from the cooler nights so they can continue their curing and fermentation. 

Vanilla bean tanning beds

After 4 months of going back and forth between the sun and the sauna, they are evaluated. When they are deemed ready, they are massaged and air dried on racks in the shed for 4 days. Hmmm, deep tub bath, sunning, sauna, massage, rest…where do I sign up?! After their massage and rest they are sorted by size and shipped out for sale. The majority of beans from Maison de la Vanille go to European chefs since Americans mostly use extract.

The beans are measured in centimeters

A note on cooking with vanilla beans - our guide confirmed that like most recipe instructions that instruct you to use something once then ‘discard’ it (a waste that is a pet peeve of Jodi’s!), this is also a load of bunk in the case of vanilla. A good vanilla bean can be used multiple times if you are making simple things like yogurt. Just rinse it and dry it between uses, or cut off a small piece to throw in your batch of ginger ale. Even if you are infusing rum (alcohol extracts the essence more efficiently than a water or fat based substance), you can use the bean for two infusions of two weeks each. Use the bean whole for the first infusion and split it for the second. Our guide claims vanilla beans can be kept in a glass jar (plastic can flavor the bean) for 7 years or more!

Only the bottom one is ready for use

As means of justifying the prices these little gems command, our guide is careful to emphasize throughout the tour that all of the work is done by hand and that each vine is only good for about 7-10 years before needing to be replanted. And that argument would seem to hold water, though some of our group does a little quick math and figures working for a few hours a day, four months a year - even if it is seven days a week - doesn’t seem like such a bad gig when you are making about $400 per kilo!

We hope you have enjoyed your Tahitian vanilla tour, though it would have been better if you were here to take it with us! Then again, you might not agree given the hiking involved to get there! Happy Birthday and we’ll leave you with a couple of shots of the waterfronts we’ve been seeing lately (a slightly different view than where you normally celebrate your birthday) and the sunset shot that should have gone with the last post.

The magic hour for light
Church in Maupiti
Sunset in Bora Bora
Lots of love and hugs,
Jodi and Darren

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bora Bora

This was originally intended as a short portrait of Bora Bora when we thought we wouldn't be able to post any photos. It took on a life of it's own so I split it off into a separate post and set it to load a couple of days later to spread the reading.

PPS – We’ve been trying to post this for 2 weeks now and haven’t found enough signal to make it happen. I had prepped a bunch of photos to include (made them smaller so they wouldn’t take too long to load, etc.-all the usual prep for posting), but it’s looking like we may have to share them later. At this point I’m kicking myself for not signing up for the email posting option that Keith showed me in Ua Pou (thank you Keith!) since now I can’t even get to the sign in page on the blog, but at the time we were too busy writing and skyping mom and grandma and uncle Roy to think about the blog.

 It’s looking like if we do get this posted it will be from an HTML email, so will try to paint you a bit of a picture in words of Bora Bora. We are anchored in about 100 feet of water just off the main town with a stunning view of the lagoon. In the distance, on a clear day, we can see the hills of Maupiti on the horizon to the west and just the tips of the waves crashing on the reef on the south side of the lagoon.  The water goes through many changes of color depending on the weather and time of day. You could fill an entire book with the variations of blue… aquamarine, turquoise, cobalt, sea glass… they range from almost green to cobalt tinged with purple.

On a good morning I (Jodi) have slept in til 6:30-7 or so and wake to the roosters who have been crowing for hours already. Actually, even when I wake at 2 or 3 in the morning they are crowing already! The first rays of the sun reflect off the tip of the mast of the super yacht docked at the Mai Kai Yacht Club (Tahitian for ‘the finest’ or Hawaiian for ‘towards the ocean’ or ‘good, welcoming ocean’ depending on who you ask). As they continue to tip the teeter totter whose pivot point is balanced on the tip of Mt Otemanu, they spill down the western side to spot light the entrance markers at Passe Teavanui and then the pale sands of Motu Tapu. Next comes the smaller sail boats moored in front of the Mai Kai and finally, the silver and red roofs of Vaitape.

Lifts for the fishing and excursion boats line the shore and they are hand operated with big metal wheels that are turned to raise the boat sling. There is some kind of parrot in one of the houses that you can tell has been raised here as it screeches in exactly the same tone (song) as the boat lifts!
All. Day. Long.

If it was sunny enough to make power the day before I will try pulling out the computer to check emails and try again to get on the blog and Facebook.  If it’s sunny out I might get to load the regular version of gmail to see your emails as you sent them. Otherwise, it’s an attempt at the HTML version. I save any emails received to share with Darren and by then the alarm is going off for the Poly Mag Net which gets Darren stirring.

The Polynesian Magellan Net is a cruiser net on the SSB/Ham radio at 19:30 UTC on 8173.0, it starts with a call for any emergency traffic then gives everyone a chance to check in with their positions, give info on anchorages, etc., get a daily weather forecast and chat afterwards. Think of it as a party line telephone on a schedule!
There is also a split group that are doing a new net on 8137.0 at 20:30 UTC for the people going west to Tonga, New Zealand, etc. . We usually listen to the first one (unless we’re going in to town early, or don’t have much power, or just feeling like a quiet morning, or…) and check in when we are underway or newly arrived somewhere if we are getting good reception. We aren’t sure what we will get once we head for Christmas as most of the boats are either staying here or going further west, but we’ll try to check in to one of the nets if we can hear them.

By the time the net is over it is 8:30-9 (usually depending on who is running the net that day!) and Darren has been sufficiently roused to get up and make hot water for tea or coffee. HOT water you say? Yes, it is the middle of winter here you know ;-) … I am using the fleece snowboarding blanket mom made me a good portion of each night and we even wore coats one night in Raiatea a couple of weeks ago! Darren got out his puffy vest for the occasion, Joe would be so proud.

Where were we? Oh yes, tea and a couple of bananas with rice and maybe papaya for breakfast. Or an egg sandwich if there is baguette left from the night before. Or if Darren is feeling especially awake and has rowed in for a fresh one. At only 53 cents each, we get one almost every day, it’s a nice break from our usual rice three meals a day. We are also enjoying the fresh local bananas, starfruit, lettuce, eggs, etc while we can. Rumor has it the eggs are $14 dollars a dozen on Christmas!!!

If we go into town we might stop into a few shops to look at the pretty things and chat with the locals. On our first day here we went into a pearl shop to look and ended up chatting with the ladies who gave us the name and number of a really good local tattoo artist. One of the ladies also had a scar on her foot that she had covered with a pretty ray tattoo. (Which reminds me, we haven’t shared the story of my scar, we’ll have to do that another time.). Later that day we met another woman (at another pearl shop) who had a 15 year old tattoo from the same guy and it looked so fresh it was as if it had just been done last month! Anyhow, don’t worry moms, I think we’re going to take a pass on the tattoos for now.

Most of the people in the shops here are VERY friendly, but as usual, we have our favorites. In the order we first saw them, don’t miss the ladies at Sibani Pearls, the Melanies at Tahiti Pearl Market, Hinanui at Albert Pearls and the crews of The Black Pearl Lounge/Bora Bora Originals and Deep Sea Pearl. In addition to the wonderful people, there were pretty things that really wanted to go home with us at all of those places. Our bank account said no to most of them but it was fun to look. There was also art we drooled over and wanted to take home at Bora Art, Bora Home Galerie and the local Artinisat (the coop of local artists you see on each island).

There are two supermarkets but no central vegetable market here, so we might also walk the length of town to check out the tables of fruit and veg and pick up some bananas or papayas or on a quest for the little pineapple mangoes that we are in love with. They are in the midst of doing road construction so it's a very dusty couple of kilometers that leaves us caked in mud. It’s not very far, but can take a while if we get to talking! We are reminded of some of the drier Mexican and central American towns more so than the immaculate streets and gardens of the Marquesas.

Speaking of supermarkets, these are the last big ones we expect to see for a while, so the provisioning that started in Papeete and Raiatea has continued here as we pick up ‘one more’ bag of milk powder, can of butter, coconut milk or slice of pate or cheese.

Back at the boat, some of the things you might find us doing recently are laundry, making sauerkraut, kimchee or sourdough banana muffins, reading some of the great cookbooks we just got for inspiration (THANK YOU Wairua!), looking up something in French, Tahitian or Marquesan. Outside, we might be fixing the windvane, servicing a winch, diving to scrape the prop, tightening all the screws in the dinghy, or making a new hanger for the disco ball to replace the one that broke!
Or you might catch us spending the afternoon catching up with a friend we haven’t seen in a couple of months and is leaving tomorrow for New Zealand so we don’t know when we’ll see him again.

If you had dropped in a couple of mornings ago, you would have found Jodi full on sobbing with tears rolling down her face, unable to wipe them away because her hands were covered in bananas for the sourdough muffins. All that because Darren was playing a Bearfoot Bluegrass album with the song ‘Back Home’.

“So don’t worry, you’re always on my mind,
And I’ll carry you with me wherever I roam.
When the pains of my heart tell me it’s time,
Well I know, I’ll be on my way back home.
…family took up so much space in my heart…
…miles and miles apart…”

And here’s where the dam completely burst -

“…But I love you mama,
And you’ll always be home to me…”

Tissues anyone?

Should you be listening to the same album, beware of the shuffle button. That morning it followed ‘Back Home’ with ‘Good Morning Country Rain’.

“Good morning country rain,
It’s good to be back home again…”

You guessed it. More tears, as I was transported back to Montana.

Late afternoons/early evenings might find us enjoying the ‘magic hour’ of glow on Mt Otemanu that makes the trees come alive with greens and golds and glowing orange. Or in a cockpit visiting with friends new and old, watching the sun set behind the boats moored at the Mai Kai as the va’a (outrigger canoe) guys paddle by.

If you have enjoyed this peek into our lives half as much as we treasure the pieces of yours you share in your emails, then it was worth the wait for wifi.

Love and hugs,
Jodi and Darren

Saturday, August 22, 2015

See You Later Grandma (and French Polynesia)

Luna Azul...sailing into the sunrise!

The time has come. The three months we are allowed in French Polynesia are up and we have to be moving on. We have loved our time here and wish we could stay longer. It will have some bittersweet memories for us as we had a variety of experiences here. It is where the people welcomed us with open arms to beautiful communities that simultaneously eased and stoked the fires of our homesickness with their emphasis on family and community. But it is also where we were when Caleb graduated and Kodee was born. 

 Ua Pou is where we learned that Grandma was really sick and where we learned that a dear uncle has cancer, but it is also where we got to hang out with several great boats including Sadiqi, Seatime, Bonafide and where we met Edwige, Armand, Heato, Jerome, Cedric, all of the crews at the Artinesat and the Coop and Darren’s surf buddies at the river mouth wave. 

This doesn't even begin to do justice to the range of colors

All dressed up and ready for Heiva

Tahiti is the only place we ever had Lil' Sass, our dinghy, stolen (from the yacht club dock and returned to Gratitouille at anchor - argh and yay!) and where Jodi  caught a nasty bug from a Typhoid Nancy that reared its ugly head about an hour into our nearly 2 day crossing to Taha’a.

A Heiva dancer

 But in between those we also got to hang out with more great boat friends including Wairua, Sunrise, Oceana, French Curve, Full Circle, Antares and more…saw Teahupoo (thanks Sunrise!), Heiva (sorry, we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the performances), shopped in huge supermarkets  (yay Carrefour!), Heiva Rimai’i (a giant arts and craft fair with live music and a carnival!), THREE bookstores (thank you Anne-Lyse), an untold number of fabric stores, the great Papeete Sunday market and had a HOT shower!

 Raiatea is where we learned that Grandma had died (apparently about the same time Jodi got sick on the crossing from Tahiti oddly enough).

It is also where we had only planned to go long enough to check out, but ended up going early to spend Darren’s birthday there. 

Swordfish, kimchee and broccoli!
Shortly after tying up to the quay we were warned by a local that we should be wary of thieves as it was near the end of the local Heiva  and there were a lot of outsiders around. This, combined with us being tired, led to us having supper on board after Darren ran over to the market and discovering… the Sauce Cucurma Gingembre by LouLou, from the Champion or Leogite markets, on some fresh grilled swordfish!

Which, along with the Carambole Chutney also by LouLou with chevre or brie, we HIGHLY recommend!

The good continued as we met the “absolutely” wonderful German and Norwegian crew of the charter s/v Colorado (and spent a great evening with them).  

As usual, farewells came much too soon.

We enjoyed meeting a few locals including our favorite artisana Dolores and getting acquainted with the guests and crew of Dutch Wanderer and Luna Azul.It's not often we run into someone from Oregon City!

The tank is empty, but will Darren explode?
We were also able to knock a couple of boat projects off the list while in Raiatea, including replacing the propane valve that broke before we even had a chance to use the fuel. (We aren't the only ones who had this issue with valves from El Salvador). Thanks to Bert on Luna Azul for the loan of his tools and muscle that made it possible!

Boat yoga...with a little help from my friends...

There is so much more of course and one of these days we will slow down enough (and get enough electricity and wifi!) to give you more details and photos. For now, we have to check out of the country, get our bond back, get fuel and water and the last minute veggies and cheese among other smaller errands! Depending on the weather and permission from the Gendarme, we are hoping to stop at Maupiti in a few days. If we arrive with…
1.       a small swell that lets us enter the pass there and…
2.       the Manaspot wifi is repaired (it hasn’t worked here for the week and a half we’ve been here– we are sending this from the cafĂ©…where we still don’t have a strong enough signal for Facebook or Skype so we only have your emails to let us know how you are)
…we are hoping to spend the last of our 5 hour wifi card that we bought 3 months ago on arrival in Hiva Oa (where it also didn’t work) to send you more news.

On the chance that the stars don’t align for that, our plans are to head out from French Polynesia for Christmas Island, Kiribati (hint, it’s near the equator in the Pacific)  where we don’t know what, if any, wifi is available, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from us for a while (like late November/early December).

Grandma, of course, no longer has to wait for us to get internet for an update. Where she's at now she has a front row seat to see what we're up to as it's happening.

Rest in peace Grandma
And even though we know that, we still miss having you here physically.
Here here (that’s ‘a whole lotta love’ in Tahitian!),
Jodi and Darren

PS – We are now waiting for weather to go to Maupiti so are enjoying a little more time with friends both old and new, and the fresh lettuce, meat, cheese and baguettes from the market while we can!

Wairua and 'touille, together again
We also did a little pre-celebration of our anniversary since we don't know what we'll have access to for the actual day.

How do you like Darren's new earring?
Spa Gratitouille - Taha'a style!

Yup, still seriously silly after all these years.