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The Tuamotu Diaries: Chapter 9 - Delayed Departure

Updated: Jul 2

spearfisher with fish
photo @moore_rachel


We postponed our departure a day, deciding that it made better sense to wait for the wind to fill in. Up until this point we’ve really only motored. Blessed by windless seas for epic diving conditions but little to fill the sails.

With a full extra day, we tried to squeeze every last drop of magic we can from the island. Early in the morning we set off to dive the mid-lagoon baumys. Josh was kind enough to be my flasher caddy and let me have the gun. I’m the only one to have not landed a dogtooth yet so the boys are supporting my efforts.

There wasn’t much room in our luggage. In fact, every suitcase we brought was well overweight. I was able to smoose the desk agent at the airport to avoid extra fees.

Since we were trying to limit our luggage and were already bringing lots of food for Joshua and Rachel, there was only room for one gun. We brought Josh’s. It’s more fit to shoot bigger fish than mine. We’ve been trading off throughout the trip with Josh having priority.

The baumys were devoid of large fish yesterday morning. Josh ended up shooting a blue jack on our last stop which Joshua grilled whole for dinner.

underwater photographer with fish

Although there was no dogtooth, one baumy had a large school of soldier fish swaying to and fro along its’ side. A cloud of little shiny, blue baitfish ebbed and flowed just under the waves. Occasionally, they would pack so tightly together you could hardly see through them. As shimmering rivers of fish moved through the surface corals, unicorn fish pecked at plankton mid water column. Below that, the soldier fish would part as large red snapper hunted amongst the school.

Rachel and I took turns diving down and being engulfed in the soldiers. Their skin alternating between silver and a deep red that looked black at depth.

Lack of fish to shoot caused our rumbling stomachs to be more noticeable than normal. We went back to the boat and made fried rice from the leftovers the night before.

Rachel and I set out for one last shelling mission before we would leave this atoll. The boys decided to stay back and nap but we promised to return by four so we could have time to gather coconuts and walk the motu before sunset.

The shallow baumys weren’t as plentiful as the ones we searched days before. We found small treasures here and there but our bags weren’t nearly as full.

Rachel and I anchored the dingy and split off in separate directions. We only bump into each other once over the next few hours. Knowing we were supposed to be back before sunset I kept checking the angle of the sun. Once it started casting a hard glaze on the water I began making my way back to the dingy.

Rachel was the only one with a watch. While I watched the sun, she could look at digital numbers. But as I got back to the dingy she was nowhere to be seen. Looking to the right and left, nothing. I do my best to stare out into the glare but it was hopeless. I started to worry.

Beginning to be nervous that she drifted off or worse blacked out (it was unlikely but still). I prepared to hop in the dingy and search.

I repositioned the anchor into the sand so the dingy wouldn’t drift away but also so once I had the motor started I could easily pull it up. I started driving into the sun, hoping to increase the distance between myself and shore, where I can see. No Rachel.

Suddenly a small black dot stands out at the surface far off in front of the next motu down. It was Rachel. I picked her up and we went to get the boys and head to the beach.

tropical island

Our mission to gather coconuts was thwarted by our curiosity to explore the motu. Just down the beach is the copra farmers camp.

Copra is dried coconut meat. The farmers harvest each of the motus around the island by chopping the cocos from the trees, cracking them in half, and leaving them to dry. They used to have to worry about giant coconut crabs getting to the meat first but they’ve since eaten them all. The crabs can grow to be a meter across and crack open a coconut in one snip of their claw. There aren’t many of that size left anymore except for on the islands there is no hunting. Once the meat has dried, a process that can take around a week, the farmers come back to collect it. They will fill large bags of copra and then drive it back by boat to their main island to meet a supply ship that takes it to Tahiti. Once in Tahiti the copra is pressed and used to make coconut oil.

beach shack

The camp on this island is home to the farmers nine months of the year. Rachel and Joshua have become friendly with them over the years of returning to this spot. Yesterday they weren’t home.

Out of respect for their space we didn’t want to rummage around inside what is essentially their home. Although it’s not too private. Three of four walls are made of sheet metal. There is no forth wall. Random assortments of plastic buoys and fishing net are draped on the two small trees between the shack and the water. The “patio” still hosts two lounge chairs Joshua made for the farmers out of sticks and netting when they were stuck sailing the island for three months during Covid. The contents of the house are stowed away for while the farmers are gone. You can make out a tarp in one back corner squished next to a tent that touches the other back corner. Some rakes and brooms hang from the sheet metal ceiling. A bucket of various silverwares sits next to what I assume is a sink. It’s not attached to any form of running water. A mobile hangs in a would be window made of clear fishing line and a few pieces of dried corals. Most with gravel made from weathered corals. The ground is mostly clean except for a suspicious looking mini fridge (not plugged in), some random bottles strewn around the property, a dried baby whale vertebrae from a carcass that washed up last year, and a barrel that upon closer inspection might be the toilet.

whale vertebrae

A path at the back of the clearing lead us deeper into the motu. We passed piles of coconut shells, dried from months in the sun. their husks partially or completely sloughed off from the weather and nuts dry and brittle to the touch. Branches from the few non-coconut trees lay on the ground, bottom halves ashy from controlled burns done by the farmers.

The deeper we move into the trees, the greener it becomes. The path becoming narrower by spikey agave-like bushes. Eventually we are lead to a large opening, making way to a grove of coco trees. The sunlight glitters across the ground as the wind rustles the fronds above. The shade is nice and gives us a much-needed break from the sun.

palm trees

Pushing past the trees we made it to the ocean side of the motu. The red tinted sandstone made the coast look like a water speckled mars. Hermit crabs crawled through tide pools and eels slithered through shallow water between hidden cracks.

As we walked the boys and I debated what our three items would be if we got dropped on a deserted island. I said lighter, machete, and some sort of container capable of boiling water.

We trekked back to where we had left the dingy and made a quick attempt to collect some coconuts while a bonfire burned on the sandbar. Josh and I had a brown coconut husking competition. He used a machete and I used a spider conch shell I found on the beach. The hard shell has long spikes on the open end. I would stab the shell into the coconut and use the spikes as a lever to pry open the husks.

Sadly, Josh won our competition but I stubbornly wasn’t too far behind.

After a pretty stacked day, we were all quite tired. We quickly scarfed down dinner and headed to bed.

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