Such are the day to day problems of Suwarrow Atoll, an extremely remote atoll in the Northern Cook Islands, about 500 miles from any significant land. Despite the problems of sharks eating the fish we catch and being constantly sunburned, this has to be one of the coolest places I have ever been. I know I say that a lot, and I know you are sick of hearing about idyllic, paradise-like places, but this place is different.
First off, Suwarrow is a marine life sanctuary and the atoll is completely uninhabited except for two park rangers from the Cook Islands. Their names are James and John. They are huge, Maori-Polynesian guys with wild hair and huge bellies, but they speak the Queen's English (with a New Zealand accent). It is great to be back in English speaking territories! James and John teach all the "Yachties", as they call us, things like how to catch coconut crabs, how to spearfish in the shallows, and how to husk a coconut and hack it open with a machete. There are snorkeling expeditions to reefs out in the lagoon almost every day, and pot-lucks every few evenings. It is like a "pick your own adventure" theme park.
Our first day here I went around to all the new boats in the anchorage to say hello. I met Lars, a single handler who lived in Ocean Beach (SD) before leaving to sail. Small world. He and I have been palling around - a few days ago we went snorkeling around Whale Motu because there is allegedly a 4 meter grouper that lives over there. We did not see it, but there is tons of live coral and thousands of different fish swimming around. The best part: they are all edible! There is no ciguatera here.
Yesterday I went with Lars and John to catch fish for the evening's pot-luck. We did not have any luck trolling, so we anchored and I snorkeled while Lars spear-fished and John dug clams out of the coral. Just after I got out of the water I saw Lars' spear sticking out of the water with a fish on it; he swimming very quickly at the boat while a few black tipped sharks followed closely behind. He managed to get the fish in the boat before the sharks got it. Apparently, if you shoot a fish and stick it out of the water on the spear the sharks won't attack it, but if there is a wounded fish in the water the sharks will be on it instantly.
When we all got back in the boat John cracked open a few clams and gave us different parts of it to eat. Most of it was salty and rubbery, but a few bites were rich and delicious. Both John and James are very good cooks, especially when it comes to preparing foods found on the atolls. Last night we had a pot-luck with all the yachties. We all brought things like pasta salad and brownies, but John cooked fish five different ways and James made deep fried coconut pancakes.
Not only was there great food at the pot-luck, but it is such a cool setting. The "Suwarrow Yacht Club" is Tom Neal's (a guy who lived here in the 1930's and wrote the book "An Island to Oneself") house. The ground floor is an open room with a cement floor surrounded by benches and chairs, and flags and mementos from all the boats that have come through decorate the ceiling. We all sat around eating, drinking and playing music late into the balmy night. Everybody here seems to get along very well. It is like we all know that this time and place is so special that talking about politics or gossip would mar the evening. That, and the fact that we all went through so much to get here (no airport), and are so far from any other civilization, makes for strong camaraderie among us.
I have tried, but there is a feeling here I can't explain. Every day slips away - I think there is a Suwarrow time warp going on here. Everything here is so pure. You want a coconut? Go pick one off the tree. Want to chat with interesting people? Pull up a chair. Want to read a book in a nice shady spot? Go get one from the little library and pick out a hammock overlooking the lagoon. Want fish for dinner? Go catch some. Just watch out for the sharks.
At 7/23/2011 1:43 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°14.87'S 163°06.48'W
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