We arrived at the unique island store, looking for a refreshing beer or two after briefly visiting Ru’s family full of curious children and a couple of lethargic grandparents who never rose from their lounging positions.
We mingled with all of them in their quaint open air home, which everyone shared. It was conveniently located near the enclosed dingy harbor and after warm greetings all around and some explanations about local customs and misconceptions, like the large wooden cross we saw on the boat entering the harbor is actually a mount for a deep sea tuna fishing reel and not a tribute to God. I found, I’d promised we’d all go mackerel fishing with the little wooden poles I inquisitively inquired about, later that afternoon. But more on that in a bit.
Let’s focus on the beer for a second. Dom and myself climbed into the back of Ru’s little black Japanese pickup truck, seated ourselves comfortably facing aft on plastic picnic chairs, while I’m sure Dizzy jabbered Ru’s ear off in the cab and slowly we journeyed down the dirt road, proudly on display for all the islanders to marvel at. After a longer than expected parade route, past cute little homes, obvious government buildings all in various states of disrepair we came to the store or more accurately. Someone’s home with containers full of stuff in their lagoon-front yard they would open up for your inspection upon arrival and sell.
And wouldn’t you know it, most stuff that was available her, was cheaper then in Tahiti. The beer, Aussie VB, at a little less than a buck a beer was over half as cheap as Tahitian Hinano and so was most of the other tasty stuff, like New Zealand honey, jams and Weet-bix cereal. Its hard to believe, almost incredulous that on an island with no real modern infrastructure, sporting a coral airstrip built during WWII, by American GIs, with no scheduled flights ever and a supply ship that comes once every four to six months, if the islanders are lucky, most goods are much cheaper here than in civilized Tahiti, with its modern port and transportation infrastructure. That just seems more than a little backwards to me, but hey there must be some reason for it’s occurrence and I’m just hazarding a guess, but maybe it has something to do with the ludicrous amount of French bureaucracy and stifling taxes of French Polynesia.
The ultra nice store lady, speaking in a thickly charming New Zealand accent could only sell us on the beer, as we were still quite well stocked-up and was quite impressed we had New Zealand dollars in our possessions to pay with, as her husband runs the only money changing operation on the island and had yet to ever meet prepared cruisers coming from FP, armed with native currency. Leave it to us young bucks set the cruising preparedness bar a bit higher. So, with a case of VB in hand and most our change going to pay our reasonable Cook Island entry fees we bailed back to Natty M, to chill the tropical temperature beer in our growing roomier, post-passage fridge. So, after the onslaught of a rapid 740 NM, 3 day passage, straight into multiple immigration officials (we had to meet with the health official too, but I think we would all like to keep that confidential), a pile of paperwork, then a mission to get change and beer, we had a solid 20 minutes to rest up before we were suppose to return and pick up Ru. Just minutes before sunset for our mackerel fishing mission.
While visiting Ru’s home, I discovered these maybe 3 foot long little fishing poles stored in the head bangingly low rafters and inquired about their use, as I had seen nothing like them before and love fishing. Beige in color, they are made from a slim native tree branch, which is stripped of it’s bark, then sun cured and it’s tip outfitted with a 6 inch peace of line, tied to a swivel, then attached to a custom fabricated, ultra thin diameter, ultra long shanked, tiny, sharp as hell hook, with a white piece of cotton lint permanently adorning its tip. Ru informed us they were made to catch the local mackerel, which he swore were absolutely delicious and invited us to go fishing with him and find out how. Even with thoughts of mackerel back home in California being a shit fish swimming through my head, how could I pass up such a nice offer and quickly accepted his invitation.
Dom was feeling a little worn out (equals no photos of the hot action) after his first ocean passage and volunteered to stay behind, rest up and guard our yacht, but Kahlil and Dizzy were game and we picked up an equipped with a pole for each of us, Ru from the beach. Who promptly asked where our masks and fins were? I must have missed the part where you bring your mask and fins fishing, but apparently these tiny poles are meant to be used under the water. We jammed back to the mother ship, grabbed our snorkel gear and headed out the pass we came in through earlier that day. Traveling north to an inconspicuous spot just off the awash reef where Ru told us to stop. There was a short, maybe 200 foot wide bench, about 25 feet deep of the lushest coral garden you have ever seen, which we instructedly chucked our dink hook into, that dramatically just ends and plunges straight down into inky darkness. The consistent offshore winds hold your boat off the reef and we quickly snorkeled-up, as all around us flocks of Boobies and Terns dove at their prey and squadrons of flying fish burst forth from the sea, skillfully evading the yet unseen predators lurking all around us. My senses were overwhelmed. I’m thinking, the Sky is alive! The ocean is alive! I feel, for the first real time in my life I’m truly in a wild place, a place where man’s influence hasn’t overrun and obscured nature yet, and I absolutely love it.
Ru explains he uses shaved coconut for bait and promptly shoves a great wad of the stuff into his large mouth and disappears over the side with a pole. Quickly we all follow suit and are memorized by what we see underwater. Even in the dying light, multitudes of brilliantly hued corals radiate mesmerizing colors and large schools of fish are everywhere. Jack fish, reef fish, bait fish, tuna fish, shark fish; all appear and soon to, do our targeted schools of mackerel. Ru swims down a few times and spews some of the coconut out of his mouth, gradually doing this closer and closer to the boat and soon a cloud of coconut crazy mackerel surround us, greedily devouring what I never imagined would have been tasty to a fish. Everyone hung on to the side of the boat and took turns spiting out their mouthfuls of coconut, while plunging hooks, baited with coconut imitating white lint on the hook tip into the eagerly attacked coconut cloud and wham! Its fish on, then another and another! These mackerel are not too big, maybe 10 inches long, but plump, with fluorescent light blue and yellow stripes that run down their sides and they are just flying into our boat’s bucket about as well as Shaq shoots free throws, for we are catching them at quite a furious pace. With one hand clinging to the boat’s rail, you watch up close, underwater, as they strike the little coconut imitating hook, on your little pole, while you quickly set the hook in their tiny mouth and hopefully, in one fluid motion, dexterously fling them out of the water and into the boat, trying to catch as many as you can before the coconut cloud disappears into the mackerel’s stomachs and they quickly stop biting. Lets just say we didn’t find all the ones that missed the bucket, but a couple, nauseatingly found their way between my toes two days later.
In maybe 15 minutes of fishing, we filled half of a five-gallon bucket with fish and were feeling quite proud of ourselves, even though Ru informed us we didn’t quite perform to island standards. What ever, we killed it! No one got bit by the numerous, highly inquisitive sharks (something we are all very use to now), everyone had a super fun time, while learning something completely new and now we had some tasty fresh fish to go with our beer.
With the faintest of light left in the southern sky and millions of stars starting to twinkle, we dropped Ru off on the beach, gave him half the fish and headed home for a little fish fry celebration. The well-deserved beers were cold, hugely refreshing and the fish cooked-up something wonderful. Fried whole in a little extra-virgin olive oil, with a dash of salt and pepper, they were totally unlike any mackerel I had ever tried before. A white meat easily separated from the bones, but super rich, oily and extremely well flavored. I have to say, I love to put copious amounts of sauce on almost everything, but all this fish needed was a squirt of lemon and it was deliciously perfect.
What a wonderful end to a great little journey and a terrific start to a new adventure in an unknown land. Our diet of fresh fish was now well under way and everyone toasted VBs, to a job merrily and well done, over an entirely new species of super tasty fish none of us had ever tried before, in a place where none of us had ever been before and as the evening wound down, with everyone drifting off into their passage, beer and food induced much needed catch up sleep. The entire crew of Natural Mystic had the feeling, this island was really going to be something special. Cheers – Kyber