March 8, 2013

#Lamotrek #FSM

The sail to Lamotrek from Puluwat was just over 170 miles and the winds were predicted to clock north again so we stayed well north of the rum line to be ready for the shift this time to eliminate having wind on the nose. Well the shift never came and all our planning did was add a few extra miles to the trip.

We had been sailing on a broad reach with the big reacher sail out all night long and at one point were only going 4 knots with only 10 knots of wind. At that speed we would not arrive until 8 pm, well after dark. A few hours later the winds picked up and we were going 7 knots again and were due to arrive by 2 pm so sometime you just have to be patient and wait for the wind to show up.

I put the lines out at dawn and in a few hours the fish started biting! We hooked a few Mahi to start with and were able to get them aboard while keeping the sail up. Then an big black marlin came by and took the bait! This fish was not happy and at one point was charging the boat jumping wildly and heading strait for us! About 50 feet away he turned away and took off leaping through the air. While he was doing this I was frantically winding in the 1000 feet of slack line he had stripped off the reel while we were rolling up the sail. I knew better than to get him to the boat to quickly and let the pole do the work and reeled in the slack when he quit fighting. It took about 40 minutes for the fish to tire out and then we were able to get him along side the back steps and take a few pictures and get the hook out of his bill and let him go to live another day. If we can let these magnificent fish go unharmed we do, others that either swallow the hook or drown we put in the freezer and give away to the islands.

A few hours later we had 3 more Mahi strikes and got them all aboard. This made 11 mahi, 1 marlin landed and 2 marlin, 1 wahoo and 4 mahi that got away in the last 700 miles!! Some of the best fishing we ever seen on Downtime!

We entered the pass mid afternoon on 1st of March and decided to anchor next to Pugue Island for the night and make our way the last 8 miles south to the main island next day.

In the morning we moved south and anchored in front of the village on Lamotrek. There was already one other boat here which we had met in Puluwat, Kite and another due to arrive in the morning, Flow which is being sailed Around the World by 2 Norway girls!

We were greeted by Francis the brother in law of the chief that passed away who paddled out and collected our landing fee of $20 per person. We were warmly welcomed to the island and were then free to go ashore.

Lamotrek is famous for their hand woven lavalava's (a wrap around skirt) that the ladies make on ancient looms that they use to weave the high quality cloth in a rainbow of colors. It takes them up to 3 days of waving to make one lavalava and they sell them for $30. You can also find the authentic traditional ones made from banana fibers for up to $100, using a time staking process that has been passed down for generations.

The other thing that is famous for is that this lavalava is the only thing the women are allowed to wear! No tops!! For a western man this was hard to get used to at first and the sunglasses stayed on! The only time women are allowed to wear a shirt is when they are working the taro fields. All visitors who stay longer than 2 weeks have to dress like local people (topless and lalalava/loincloth). It's one of many tricky rules of Lamotrek.

Many men of the village are busy building a new outrigger sail canoe. The design is one of the biggest made to date and is almost 30 feet long. The bottom of the hull is carved out of a single piece of flawless mahogany that was brought over from the island of Yap. The side planks are cut from huge breadfruit trees and also are also of perfect quality without a single knot. The planks are first rough cut with a chainsaw and then painstakingly trimmed with a adz. The planks are bent by blocking each end and getting the biggest men in the village to stand on the middle and then a rope is tied across with a block in the middle to maintain the bend. Once the correct bend is achieved the time consuming task of trimming the edge of the plank begins. They us a red dye painted on the edge of the lower board and set to upper plank on top and the dye transfers contact points and then they trim the points with an adz until there is a uniform paper thin gap between the two planks. When the gap is perfect they use a series of holes along the planks edge to bind the two together with twine and pound a tapered peg into the lashing to cinch the two planks together tightly. Later when all the planks are complete they with take them back apart and put a sealer between them made from the sap of the breadfruit tree. Although if they had 3M 5200 sealant they would gladly use that too!

A canoe this size will take thousands of hours to complete with the help of the 30 -40 men working every day for months, all the while being directed by the Master Carver who is always present. The sails will be hand sewn, another huge project with cloth donated by a cruiser from Australia. They hope to have the project finished by May and I felt lucky to have the process explained to me and to have seen such a project under way.

This is by far the busiest and most productive island we have been to. We saw other men busy building fish traps, a project that takes 50 to 100 hours each to complete. The traps are made from hundreds of individual sticks tied together with hundreds of feet of string and thousands of knots. The traps are 3-5 feet square and a foot and a half high with a tapered entrance on one side where the fish go in and are caught. Each trap is a work of art and intricately made. The men who were neither building the canoe or fish traps were busy planning the construction of a fishing lodge on a uninhabited island 30 miles away on Olimarao. A shelter to stay in when they go out to the island to fish and hunt turtles. A single building 16x20 with a concrete floor and walls with a water storage cistern and covered with a corrugated metal roof. All the building materials were ordered and delivered by the ship that arrived this week. They were all sitting in a circle going through the materials list when they asked if I had grinder or hacksaw blades to cut rebar with. They were in luck I had both which I donated to the project. The next issue was getting the portable generator running that had been in storage for 4 years! A few hours later the carburetor was cleaned and the motor service with the engine running smoothly.

When the women are not weaving or in the taro patch they are preparing meals over an open fire in a cooking area separate from the home. Usually just a small roof covering the fire and blocked on one side to keep the wind out. Hanging from the roof are an assortment of pots and pans with their charred black bottoms from the coconut husk fire. The meals are simple and most include taro, breadfruit or rice when they can afford it. Fish is seasonal and some times they do without and other times when plenty full it is hung to dry for later. The pigs are saved for special occasions as well as sea turtles which are one of the island favorites. Chickens and dogs roam the islands and often find themselves on the menu also.

Every afternoon at about 3 pm the men get together where the canoe is being built ("man house") and drink tuba, the naturally fermented wine from the coconut tree. The juice drips into a small container that is tied to the main fruit bearing branch at the top of the tree. The branch that would usually produce the coconuts is tied off early in its development and is trimmed back 3 times a day and drips out the tuba into the small container tied to the branch. This liquid is then fermented a short while and has about the same alcohol content as wine about 10%. It is amazing to see the young guys climb the trees and collect the juice, they make climbing the 30 foot tall trees look easy!

This same juice can have yeast mixed in be left to ferment and made into a strong alcohol which most of they export to the main island of Yap. I was thinking if they could build a small still then may be they could run their our board motors on pure ethanol!

A few days after we arrived the first ship in 5 months finally arrived and delivered much needed supplies. The Priest was also aboard and during his short stay here performed two weddings and several first communions. It was a privilege to be included in these ceremonies and to be able to see a traditional wedding. The young kids who took their first communion looked beautiful and were dressed in white clothes, turmeric powder on the skin with flower lei's and had bright colored head bands.

One afternoon while I was onshore with the men fixing the generator and properly taste tuba, Daria had a small get together aboard Downtime with Michaeila and several other girls. She's shown them some pics, music and of course served tea and sweets which she baked day before. Soon there were 15 kids swimming around the boat and everyone had a great time.

Later that afternoon Daria invited Camilla and Joanna on board from Flow to share stories and I brought the island chief Mannuel aboard for a few beers which are banned from drinking on the island but are ok to drink on the boat.

The culture here is a much different than in the States in how the land is passed down in the woman's family. Women own the land and the home and when they man marries he moves to the woman's village and island. There is not much interaction between them during the day when the women are busy in the gardens and weaving, while the men are working and fishing. We read that most of the children have adopted families like god parents and most spend equal time with both families. The kids seem to be very independent and spend a lot of time on their own while growing up. Most the outer island kids go to school and live on the main islands during the high school years and stay with their adopted families. Ester (local woman) has a dissertation about Lamotrek wrote by German girl few years ago. One night we took it on Downtime and read it. It is worth to read to understand this culture better.

Lamotrek was also the first island we have been to where most of the people are chewing betel nut. This a nasty habit that destroys and turns the persons chewing it teeth red! Long time users have just a few blackened teeth left and are addicted. This is also the first place where Tuba, the palm wine was drank daily to abuse. Every day gallons of the stuff would be consumed by the men from 3pm to all hours of the night. The women drink sweet tuba (non-alcohol) and sadly are occasionally victims of drunken violence.

The afternoon before we left the ladies of the village prepared a farewell feast for Camilla, Joana from Flow and Daria and myself along with Eric, a visiting anthropologist from the States who had arrived on the supply ship a few days before. This was an amazing time where the ladies sang us songs and wished us well on our journey. They presented us with lei's and colorful head dressings and then rubbed bright yellow turmeric powder on our shoulders. After the ceremony we were given meals with enough food in them to get us all the way to Yap 400 miles away! For each of us there was at least 3 pounds of boiled taro, breadfruit, cooked banana's, fried breadfruit and taro and sliced meat (canned). We experienced all the many delicious ways they cook the taro with coconut cream. Daria was given another beautiful lavalava that had detailed embroidery work on it and in return gave the women gifts of earrings and necklaces.

On our last morning there the school had cultural days and all the kids dressed up traditional with the small girls wearing grass skirts and the boys wearing the men's blue and white striped lavalava which is narrower that the women's version and worn higher around the waist over their loin cloth. The girls gave a weaving demonstrations on how they made the headbands and baskets while the boys showed navigation skills on a white board. Later they would meet with the master carver, master sailor and master fisherman to have those skills explained to them. They had items for sale on tables like locally woven palm fiber rope, small carvings, sea shells, lavalava's and a few baskets of food with chicken or dog with rice for $15. We bought a chicken lunch, not brave enough for dog yet...

We had a wonderful week on Lamotrek and want to thank everyone for showing us such amazing hospitality. We will remember this small piece of paradise forever!


Pete and Daria

PS: we are in Ulithi atoll, our last stop before Yap. We caught 4 Mahi and Wahoo on our way from Woleai to Ulithi and ready for diving and kiting. Story about Woleai is coming...

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