Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Gathering fruit and friends in Taipivai

Yesterday I had an experience that has altered the way I view the world. There are few events that I can recall that have changed me in such a way, but I know that this is one that I will remember for a lifetime.

Echo in Comptroller Bay
With plans to sail for Ua Huka from Nuku Hiva, Echo raised anchor for a new shore.
We had been in Taiohae bay for quite some time, our feet were getting itchy for a move and we ignored the forecast of light winds. Upon leaving the bay it was clear that the 30 nautical miles of open ocean to be crossed was far too much if we were to make it to Ua Huka before nightfall. Disgruntled, we motored into Comptroller Bay for the day hoping to wait out the light winds and continue onward to Ua Huka. We were disappointed, but chance had led us to an experience far more fulfilling than we could have ever imagined.

We were getting tired of the Marquesas, and dreams of crystal blue water and world class diving in the Tuamotus seemed to fill our minds every hour that we waited. It was decided that Echo would sail straight for the Tuamotu atolls, skipping the upwind leg to Ua Huka, despite it's reported beauty. However, we had to provision with fresh fruit and water before setting off on a several day long voyage. The dinghy was put over the side, and we headed up a freshwater river dodging rocks and making way for the village of Taipivai. Without knowledge of the area, we set off in search of fruit and water.

After getting the dinghy stuck partially up the river, and Tine already off on foot, I tied it up and hiked towards town. While meeting overly friendly locals with whom I didn't share any language other than a smile and handshake I made my way through copra farms, fruit trees, and even marijuana fields before meeting up with Tine in front of a little shop in the village of Taipivai. Full of mud and dripping with sweat, it was time for a cold drink. We stopped in the little shop, and asked the shopkeepers if they knew where we could get some fresh local fruit. We couldn't have asked anyone better, and the events leading up to this moment allowed us to meet Simon.

Immediately Simon told us to jump in his truck and he would take us to gather fruit. His eagerness to take us was disconcerting at first. Tine and I exchanged skeptical looks as we asked him how much this was going to cost us. "No money, no money," Simon kept telling us. Upon meeting us he eagerly dropped what he was doing and was going to drive us around the island collecting fruit. Surely, we thought, he wants something. Either way we needed the fruit and he seemed nice enough, so off we went.

He drove us up a dirt trail and met up with a friend of his by the side of the road. Mako was his name, and he jumped in the back of the truck to help us gather fruit. Again, Tine and I looked at each other skeptically. Mako was in the middle of working, and he also dropped what he was doing to help us gather fruit. We wondered why they were so eager to help us, and what are they going to want from us when all is said and done?

Tine, Mako, and Simon loading fruit.
After several kilometers of dirt track we arrived to a place where Simon said there were Pamplemouse and limes. Simon produced several large burlap sacks, and all four of us hopped out of the truck and set off on foot. Fruit trees were everywhere. Fruit is so abundant in the Marquesas that most of it just falls to the ground and rots. Simon and Mako taught us how to spot the best fruits, and collectively we picked enough to fill two burlap sacks. Repeatedly we told Simon that we had enough, but he just kept getting more and more. After picking more than enough pamplemouse and limes, we washed them in a nearby freshwater stream and loaded the sacks into the truck. Tine and I were satisfied, more than satisfied. We already had a couple hundred pounds of fruit and expected to go back and load it onto the boat, but Simon was not yet satisfied at all.

"Do you like banana? Papaya? Breadfruit? Coconut? Star Fruit?" he would ask us while driving. "Sure, of course we like it," we would reply. That was enough for him to stop. Mako would climb up and heave at a banana tree with his machete, giving us the entire stalk of bananas. We made other stops and picked fresh papaya and coconut. Simon wasn't yet satisfied with how much fruit we had, even after we repeatedly explained that it's only a small boat!

What we really needed to do that day was get to the local gendarmerie, or police station. It was important to clear the boat out of the Marquesas before setting sail for the Tuamotus. The gendarmerie was quite a long way from Taipivai, and we would need a ride. We told Simon that we would have to find a way to get there, and without hesitation he said he would be happy to take us. First, we went back to his home where his entire family came out and unloaded, washed, and sorted all the fruit. He sat with us for a bit and offered us cold beers as we exchanged conversation, all the while showing nothing but genuine kindness. As we got back into his truck to start the journey to the gendarmerie Tine and I were still a bit confused about his motives.

He took us part of the way before his radiator blew out, leaving us stranded on the side of the road. Simon waved down a passing vehicle, asked them if they could give us a ride, and stayed with his crippled truck. We rode all the way into town and back with a family that stopped at all the good viewpoints so we could take photos. They even popped into a shop to buy a six pack of beers to share with us as we exchanged stories. The kindness of these random people found while standing at the side of the road was astounding. On our way back to Taipivai we had spotted Simon, and hopped out to continue our journey with him. He wanted to make sure we had made it there and back okay, and was stopped on the road in a new vehicle that he had borrowed from his mother.

Collecting Mango with Simon and his son
Simon had with him a long pole with a net on the end made for gathering fruit from high trees. We didn't yet have any mangoes, and that was not good enough for Simon. We stopped again and collected mangoes from a huge tree, aided by Simon's son. After filling up another huge sack he brought us back into Taipivai and helped us load all the fruit, which had been washed and sorted for us by his family, into the dinghy. It took several trips just to get it all aboard Echo. We parted ways, and agreed to meet him at his house for dinner that evening. Tine and I were no longer exchanging looks of skepticism, but looks of astonishment instead. Simon had spent four or five hours with us. He had shown us around the island, told us stories, and answered our questions. We simply could not believe the experience we had just had.

Ferrying fruit to Echo
After washing up, we set off for our dinner invitation. Simon's wife had made a proper feast for the occasion. Stewed fish, sashimi, breadfruit, bananas, rice, and sauces of all sorts were across the table. We sat down with Simon, his family, and Mako and talked and ate until we were full and sleepy. "Have more, have more," they would say while passing us another dish. At dinner, Simon showed us his guestbook which was filled with the names of other sailors and their boats. He had made a habit of getting fruit for voyagers and inviting them into his home. He told us how he valued the experience, and did it simply for the quality conversation and to learn from all different kinds of people.

At no point did he want money. Simon would have been offended if we offered. He didn't want anything other than to talk with us and show us his island, of which he was clearly proud. There are no words for his generosity, it's unlike anything I have ever experienced. We were strangers, and he spent his entire day making sure we were happy. He gave us fruit, drinks, and dinner, but the most impressive gift he gave was that of his time and his wisdom. I think that one of secrets to Simon's generosity is his attitude towards life. When the topic of business or money would come up he would simply say, "What do I need of more money? I have everything I need right here." He told us more than once, "I have no problems, you are the ones with the problem because you have no fruit!" His simple and contented outlook was the gateway to his overwhelming generosity. When I come back to Nuku Hiva I will be visiting Simon, he has found a friend for life.


  1. Thanks for the update Rob. We love getting these. I'm especially happy that you and Tine are seeing the "best" that the world has to offer. It's a good place!

  2. SOunds awesome! Would love to hear about some of Simon's and Makos stories! Like how they came about living in the marquesas!

  3. Wow Rob, this is amazing. Thank you for sharing your life and adventures here. It is tales like this that restore my faith in humanity. I wish you all the best in your continued travels, and I can't wait to read the next update!

  4. Hi there both of you, Rob it seems you have a novel in the making, apart from the Atwood switch blog, which I suggest you exclude from your book! I really enjoy following you both on your escapades...Tine, Mette could not recognise you in the latest seems you have shed a few kilos!!! Nothing like a bit of hard work to shape up-:) Keep the updates coming...and please not too much of the technical stuff. God speed...but then again I guess neither of you are in any particular hurry!

  5. Rob, somehow I have stumbled upon some of your writings today. I was interested in the solar power system you have and I have gained enough knowledge now to do my own. However this story about friendships made is what life is really about. Keep these stories coming and maybe I will see you out there sometime. We set sail out of North Carolina spring 2013 if all goes well. I hope and believe I will meet people like what you wrote Bout here.
    Happy sailing adventures!

  6. Rob, I'm reading through your posts and must say that your experience with Simon reminds me of stories I grew up with. My grandfather sailed around the world in the early 50's and there were many stories told of the generosity of the people he met. I try to continue to 'pay it forward' with my efforts to help connect sailors here on San Francisco Bay.