Tuamotus

On the third day at sea, we arrived to an atoll in the north of the Tuamotus. To give you an idea of what we’re talking about, if you don’t already know, an atoll  (from wikipedia) is a ring-shaped coral reef that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. There may be coral islands or cays on the rim. The coral of the atoll often sits atop the rim of an extinct seamount or volcano which has eroded or subsided partially beneath the water. The Tuamotu archipelago that belongs to French Polynesia consists of 75 atolls. It was a rainy and windy morning and the only entrance to the atoll looked even more scary than what we had imagined.

Luckily, maybe by some divine intervention, at the same time of our arrival, another sailboat was there, a catamaran, navigating the pass without any problems as to letting us know, that everything was going to be ok. That gave us enough encouragement to try it ourselves, and without waiting any longer, we motored through the narrow pass, and made it through safely.

Inside the atoll to the left of the pass, we saw two other boats at anchor and decided to find our own spot behind them. We set the anchor safely and sat in the cockpit to take in this amazingly different place.

In front of us we could see 4 or 5 small houses set between palm trees and sand. To the left and right, we could see a narrow rim of sand, reef and palm trees. Behind us and all around us, all there was was water.  I felt so remote.

We went downstairs, had long showers, cooked a wonderful hot breakfast and fell asleep. It was 24th of December. We had finally arrived to a destination that we had always dreamt about. It felt surreal. The wind was still howling but we were protected in our anchorage.

For the next 3 and a half months we stayed in this part of the world. Every day we got more and more used to our surroundings. The weather would sometimes change and become calm and so glassy we could see our reflections on the water’s surface. We quickly learned to coexist  with our neighbours the millions of fish that visited us to get some little scraps of our food , the noisy birds that were on a constant feeding frenzy and the many sharks that came to do the rounds every day.

We met our human neighbours too, we didn’t have too many of those but thankfully the ones we had, were really nice, and being in such an isolated place, made our newly made bonds even stronger. We shared some good surf sessions with them, had bonfires on the beach, went spear fishing and  sailed together to other parts of the atoll.

We spent most of our time in this one atoll. We didn’t feel the need to move from it because we found everything we liked here: good waves, beautiful beaches and amazing ocean life. After almost two months here, we decided to explore some of the other atolls.

We sailed south through the atoll chain and arrived to one of the most visited, a Unesco World Heritage site, known for the biggest concentration of sharks in its south pass. Fakarava didn’t dissapoint. It was quite impressive and we spent almost two weeks sailing the lagoon, visiting different spots along the way and getting our minds blown away by watching all those sharks cruising around on the south pass.

We also visited the uninhabited atoll of Tahanea, where we saw a completely different behaviour by the sharks. Maybe there were a bit too curious, but we felt a bit intimidated by the closeness they wanted to have with us. Many times we decided to jump back to the dinghy because we felt that they were getting to close to our liking.

And in the atoll of Toau, we experienced our first real interaction with locals. We met Regis and Katie, two of the friendliest people we’ve ever met, welcoming us with freshly caught fish and cold coconut water.

Every day they would give us something that they had around ; some kind of local fruit called kava, bread fruit, coconut bread. They invited us one day to eat coconut crab, Mick even went with Regis to catch the crab. So we tried to reciprocate their generosity and invited them over to our boat for lunch and shared with them some magazines, clothes and fishing gear. When we said good bye they sent us off with gifts of black pearls and big smiles that we will never forget.

These months in the atolls were the icing on the cake.  We improved our free diving, wave riding, coconut harvesting, cooking and baking skills, bonfire building, we became more crafty, better at untangling the anchor from coral heads and navigating through the mazes of coral gardens across the atolls….Being in such a testing environment, where you’re so exposed to nature, so far away from everywhere, gave us so many new lessons and we felt our lives so enriched afterwards. It was an unbelievable time, that we will never forget.

The road ahead

Six days till our departure date. We’ve done our practice pack, checked for excess weight, separated the unnecessary things and put them into a give- away pile.

 I was dreading this day, because the last time I found it hard to know what to pack and what not to, and even harder to let go of clothes and things I didn’t have the space to take with me. Luckily, this time was much easier and I managed to quickly decide what to take and what to leave behind. My bag got packed with little drama and with the correct weight.

Mick on the other hand was having a few more problems. These months on land, have allowed him to use the Alibaba site a bit too much and his bag is full of extra parts for the boat, the boards, the photography, the coconut oil making (don’t ask!) and of course the perfect coffee making (this time we’ll be taking a coffee grinder with us). Needless to say, it ended up being a bit heavier than mine.

We finished work a week ago and spent last week visiting friends and spending time with family. Yesterday and today we’ve been cleaning the apartment where we’ve lived for the last few months and later today we’ll be going to visit Mick’s mum and dad for a few days.

Our last weekend in Australia will be spent saying goodbye, re packing our bags and board bags and on Monday we’ll be flying to Sydney, from Sydney to Auckland, from Auckland to Papeete. The whole journey is going to take us more than 20 hours.

We’ll spend two days in Papeete and then take the ferry to Raiatea where Ondular has been for the last 15 months. We’ve booked an air bnb for the first two nights there so that we have a nice place to return to after spending, we assume, those two days cleaning her and getting rid of the unavoidable mould.

Once we make her liveable again, we’ll move in but we’ll still be at the boatyard doing the antifouling, getting the sails back up and setting her all up to be ready to be launched into the water again.  We hope this process won’t take more than 2 weeks, but hey! Who knows how long it’ll take.

Once in the water is another story; life will be more comfortable and we’ll also try to anchor near a motu (little island) with a nice passage (waves) nearby so that we can enjoy some surfing, snorkelling and all the things we like doing, while working on the boat jobs.

And that’s as far as we’ve got, after that is in the realm of the unknown. We’ll figure it all out once we’re there. We’ve got a one-year visa for French Polynesia so we’re in no rush. We haven’t seen much of the islands yet so this is a whole new part of the world for us to explore and we’re happy to not have a plan.

 We’re returning to Ondular with a different vision. It’s no longer a holiday; it’s our life and we’d like this life style to last for a while. So, we’re planning to be smarter with our money (yes, we’ll try to be even tighter than before and be even more self-sufficient) and we’d like to avoid any schedules or timelines. This would mean to be guided merely by the weather and by how we feel in the places we encounter.

We know how lucky we are to be doing this, to have the freedom and ability to leave everything behind, follow our passion and listen to our souls.  This is the beginning of our second chapter of being free in the sea and we’d like to share it with you so we can inspire, entertain, encourage, motivate or simply keep you posted.

 

Back on land

Nine months ago we left Ondular safely packed and out of the water in French Polynesia and we came back to Australia. It was a difficult decision to make but a necessary one, due to personal and financial reasons. We were confronted with having to resettle again, look for a place to live, look for work and change our mindsets of relaxation and enjoyment into productivity and routine.

The first few weeks or maybe months were a bit shocking. The Gold Coast seemed to have grown and changed so much; so many people everywhere, crowded surf, crowded shopping centres, busyness, everyone seemed trendy and in style and then there was us, trying to fit in again or at least function among it all.

It definitely was overwhelming. From our tranquil and easy-going life on the boat, in our little cocoon, just the two of us, spending everyday and all day together, to a full time job, sharing an apartment with a friend, having no time for anything.

But it has been a very positive time as well. We’ve been so lucky that we have such good friends; our friend Henk, letting us share his apartment with him for cheap rent, only a block and a half away from the ocean, simply priceless! Our friends Junior and Lisa, so thoughtfully kept their mother’s car which was going to go the wreckers, for us to use when we got home. And my friend Jenny, helping me get a job back at the school I used to work for, so yes, we’ve been so very lucky!

I started working a 10 hour day job straight away in a Language School teaching English to adults. Mick got jobs here and there, but nothing too good, until December when he landed a good job but unfortunately it was a  FIFO (fly in fly out) job, so since then we’ve only seen each other for 3 weeks because he comes home for one week and goes away again for three. It hasn’t been easy but it’s  a means to an end and it’s not forever.

On one hand, it’s been great because I really love my job. In the past, I used to teach children and although I love children for their innocence and creativity , I’m enjoying interacting with adult students so much and with this age group I don’t have to worry about behavior management which makes it all so much easier. I’ve been blessed with meeting some wonderful people who happened to be my students and to have some amazing co-workers.

On the other hand, it’s definitely hard to be apart from Mick  but we’re both so busy that time is flying by and we know that soon enough we’ll be able to be together again. This experience back on land has made our will even stronger that we definitely want to get back on Ondular and continue our journey and has made it even clearer for us that we’d like our time on board not only to be an adventure but our way of living.

Mick has been able to meet people that have been doing the same job that he’s doing now for years, spending more time apart from their families than with them, all because of money and having to pay bills; but wouldn’t you rather be broke and being able to spend time together than having money but being apart. What is life for if you’re not spending it with the people you love the most?

More and more I think the world is upside down. That our belief system is completely wrong and that we go on in life chasing the wrong things, not stopping to think for a minute and wonder, is this right? Could I do things differently?

This time on land has been testing and challenging but very enriching and has reassured us that we’d like to continue doing things differently and this time around we would see Ondular not only as a journey but as a long term lifestyle.

We get trapped by our own choices and without realizing we set ourselves for failure. The moment you make the decision that you don’t need all that stuff to be happy, that nothing that is outside of you will ever give you happiness, that’s the moment you become freer. When we stop wanting so much, we find contentment in little things and that in itself gives us freedom.

Our time on land is slowly coming to an end and soon enough we’ll be back among the ocean, falling asleep with the sound of the water caressing the hull of Ondular and rocked by the waves. We’ll be back to our simple life and away from the cars, the noise, the alarm clocks and the big shopping centres. It’ll be difficult to say good-bye to friends and family, the ones that we hold dear, but we can’t ignore our spirits calling, calling us back to sea.

 

 

 

Earthquake in Ecuador

It’s Saturday afternoon and Mick, Steve and I are sitting at a bar in Santa Cruz making the most of the 2 for 1 happy hour. We are celebrating Steve’s arrival to Galapagos after a 40 hour trip from Australia that resulted in his bags not arriving with him. Suddenly my phone starts to ring and my father’s scared voice is at the other end asking if we are ok. Yes we are fine, what’s happening? There has been a strong tremor but you’re mum and I are fine, be careful and alert are his next words.

The hours pass by and we hear more news about not the tremor but the 7.8 earthquake that has hit a few coastal towns in Ecuador. There is an alert for a tsunami but we don’t hear any sirens or warnings so we proceed to have dinner.

On our way back to the boat, I asked the water taxi driver if he knows about the tsunami alert and he said it’s been cancelled, but we can’t help to notice that we are one of the few boats left in the anchorage. We are super tired, should we lift anchor and follow the others? No, instead we turned the vhf radio and keep monitoring messages from Port Authority and after an hour they let everyone back at the anchorage and we are glad we decided not to move and stay put.

The next morning we went to the immigration office. It’s our time to check out from the country as the next island we are visiting, Isabela, has no immigration office. It’s Sunday and we are legally no longer in Ecuador, we have a trip planned, food bought but our heart with all the people devastated by the terrible earthquake. We need to start focusing on what’s left on the list of things to do before we go, but instead keep checking on how the rescue efforts are going and the death toll rising.

Natural disasters always come as a surprise, no one can predict them, no one can do much about them. The sad thing is when lives are lost unnecessary, and when you notice the differences that can happen in countries like Ecuador, where constructions are not well preserved or building regulations aren’t followed as strictly, making buildings collapse more easily or bridges fall down.

It’s been hard enough to see the country go through so much over the last two years we have been around, all the taxes, the restrictions and unfair new rules and regulations, and now to see it go through this, knowing that the government is broke and won’t have the money to pay for all the help that all the people will need.

But there is always hope and people are coming together. The solidarity and compassion always shines through. We’ve read of countries like Venezuela sending some help. Mexican rescue workers are flying over to help with finding more victims and all around Ecuador people are putting together donations to send to the affected areas.

I wish I could be there to help. But as an irony of life, although I’m still on Ecuadorian ground, I’ve checked out of the country and it’s time to continue on our journey. Tomorrow we sail to Isabela where we’ll spend three days and we are thinking of starting our passage of 3000 nautical miles to the Marquesas this Saturday.

All we can do now is send our thoughts and prayers to all the families affected by this terrible earthquake, all the people that have lost loved ones or that are still trying to find a daughter or a husband. We send strength to all the people that have lost their houses and possessions and we urge people to stay calm and safe and to come together to help. We give thanks to all the many volunteers who are working hard on providing food and medicines and that are at the affected areas giving a hand to find more survivals. We can overcome anything by coming together and staying strong.

 

In Memory of our friend Roberto

“Deseo poco y lo poco que deseo lo deseo poco”.

“I want little and the little things I want, I want them little”

This is the phrase that was on the epitaph of our friend Roberto’s funeral and there were perfect words to describe his life and how he decided to live it. We started our time in Ecuador with such sad news, Roberto’s sudden sickness and death.

Roberto was a dear friend to us and when we started our trip and spent those months in Ecuador in 2014, lots of this time was spent with him and his girlfriend Fenja. They were one of those couples who you just click with. We were going through similar things, the four of us, decided to leave our lives behind and start new adventures, us in the water with Ondular, they on the road with El Verde. Time spent together was just easy, we laughed and shared stories, it kind of felt like we were part of the same team, a team of travellers, of the ones that were doing something different.

After our time in Ecuador, our physical paths parted, they went on to travel from Ecuador, through Peru and Bolivia all the way to Uruguay and we went on to the Caribbean to buy the boat, but throughout these months we faithfully kept in touch, sharing our adventures and misadventures, and planning a future rendezvous.

Unfortunately live has a way of surprising you when you least expect it and when in August I wasn’t getting many responses from them, I had a feeling that something was wrong. In September on my quick visit to Ecuador I found out the horrible news that Roberto was sick, a tumour had been found in his brain and he wasn’t doing that well. He and Fenja had to now face a complete change of plans, leaving their travelling behind and settling in Ecuador to fight the tumour. By the time we got back to Ecuador at the end of November, Roberto was being operated to remove part of it and there were positive expectations from the operation.

We thought we were going to be at the right time to help him overcome the operation and support him on his path to recovery but he never recovered from the operation and he passed away in the middle of December. I’m glad we were there for Fenja during these unimaginable hard times. Fenja is a true inspiration to me of strength and love. They are one of the most wonderful couples I’ve ever met, and to see them going through this was heartbreaking and it still is.

Galapagos was the place where we had planned to meet again so being here now brings a sad feeling to it. Roberto is with us though, maybe not physically but in our hearts, in every wave we surf and in every sunset we see. He was an amazing soul, always happy always willing to give. He always had an advice or a story to tell so I feel really grateful to have known him as my friend and to have shared those times together. Thanks to him I got to meet my now dear friend Fenja and I know we’ll share more memories together with her. He left us his life as the message: live simply, live well, give to others and always smile. Thanks Roberto for your light and love. You are in our hearts forever.