Part of the fun of setting up this series of “remember when” posts has been reviewing our trip for myself. As I skimmed through French Polynesia, I was shocked to discover that I haven’t posted any photos of the Tuamotus – one of the most beautiful places we have visited. And so, for my last holiday post, I will remedy the oversight. I’ll be back to regular posts later in the week.
Originally posted as Sleeping in the Great Outdoors, September 4, 2012
My family did a lot of camping when I was young. Every summer we hitched our pop-up trailer to the big red van, and toodled around the great campgrounds of Southern Ontario. When I was a little older, I was introduced to the joys of a damp sleeping bag when I was sent to a summer camp in Algonquin Park. This was a canoe trip kind of camp, and we girls were sent out for a few days at a time to paddle the lakes as the blackflies buzzed and the mosquitoes whined. After a long day of paddling a canoe and acquiring a mild sunburn, occasionally punctuated by a tiring portage, our counsellors would guide us to a campsite. As the sun went down, we would coax the wet sticks we found into a fire and try to cook something before falling dead into our drippy canvas tents. (Note to the interested: Kraft pizza mix is a superior camping meal. Wrap the dough around a stick, cook it in the fire, then dip the dough stick into the tomato sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Cést magnifique. I only had this once during my camping career, and still remember it clearly almost thirty years later.) As a parent, I see how wise it was to tire out a quartet of nine-year-old girls in this way. Although I didn´t care for camp as a whole (too much rigidly-scheduled cheerfulness), I have fond memories of gliding across still lakes, listening to the birds overhead, and eating charred, sticky marshmallows at the end of the day.
The years went by and I encountered My Dear Spouse. It should surprise no one reading this blog that Erik is keen on camping. But Erik was a proponent of La Vie Sauvage in a way I could never be. For example, winter camping. True, there are no bugs to worry about, but actually choosing to sleep outdoors during a Canadian winter only begs the question: why? Nothing he said abut the crisp beauty of the thing fizzed on me at all. There I draw the line.
Happily, there is a middle ground between trailers and snow forts. When we travelled around Europe during university, we slept in a two-man tent Erik bought in Compiegne. In the years that followed, out little Jamet took us through the mountains of Switzerland, climbing in New Hampshire, hiking in Maine, and into our own backyard when Stylish was young. And while I never developed an antipathy to camping, I thought my days of sleeping on the cold, hard ground were over.
We recently celebrated Erik´s birthday in the atoll of Makemo. After a day spent snorkelling around reefs with a fish population to put the world´s finest aquarium to shame, we decided to camp out on an uninhabited motu for the night. After a dinner of fish grilled over the fire, we laid out a bed of palm fronds on the coral rubble, pitched our old friend the Jamet, and crawled inside when the sun went down.
It is rather entertaining to camp in the Tuamotus. Huge parrotfish abound along the shoreline, and their dorsal fins and tails flap out of the water as they munch on the coral just below. And, rather than worry about snapping turtles, one has to be on the lookout for sharks. Although the shallows beside the motu are only a foot or so deep, still blacktip sharks as big as Indy patrol right to the shoreline. This morning, as I washed out the breakfast dishes, I was surprised when two large-ish sharks suddenly turned and swam away from me. They were only three feet away when they turned, and whether they objected to the hot peppers I´d rinsed away or didn´t like the look of their reflections in the big metal bowl resting on the bottom, I don´t know.
|Just a baby swimming by.|
I am still getting used to reef sharks. I prefer a certain cultured aloofness in my sharks. But the sharks here, especially those of human size, are interested in us and want to know what we are about. So they circle, ever so slowly. Our local friend and guide told us the sharks would likely not bother us, provided we didn´t move much or follow them. I am hardly about to go chasing sharks. But it isn´t always easy to freeze like a popsicle when a higher predator glides past only four feet away. The rule is, no splashing, no noise – just stay resolutely large and wooden. The largest sharks we´ve seen were 12-14 feet long, and the largest pack held at least twenty bodies. I am delighted to report that these refined animals feigned the lofty ignorance of our presence of which I so approve. Their smaller comrades should take a lesson.
It is crucial when camping up north to hoist your food. Otherwise, critters from racoons to bears will get into it, no question. We also had to hang our food at night on the motu… because of the hermit crabs. The hermit crabs here are the size of my fist, and they are wonderful cleaners. Anything left out at night will be gone by morning, and one can hear the clack-clack of shells sliding over the coral rubble all night long. The hermit crabs were especially fond of the plastic Ikea forks we´d brought, and we had to retrieve these well-chewed items from all sorts of far-flung and unlikely places.
The sun came up, and little eyes opened. Maybe it was the mild tropical night. Maybe it was the lack of biting insects. Or maybe curling up with our girls on a Thermarest as the stars circled overhead is just one of life´s small pleasures. Because all of us agreed when we woke up – we would stay the next night as well.
Reaction: June 2014
The Tuamotus sit high on our list of places we would love to go back to. It is quiet; most atolls don’t have an airport, and only see a handful of boats each year. Some of the atolls are essentially uninhabited, or have a village so far away that certain passes never see people – or, more importantly, fishing. There were times I feared we were visiting the world’s last healthy reefs. Sadly, I didn’t have a good underwater camera at the time, but here are a few photos to give you an idea of why we liked it so much. This is the upside of cruising in a nutshell.