Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Suwarrow – A Dream Come True

One of the beautiful Seven Islands at Suwarrow

In between Bora Bora and America Samoa there is a tiny little island called Suwarrow.  There are no airports, no grocery stores, no townspeople and certainly no hotels.  The only way to get there is by boat and the only way you can stay is if you bring your own place to live.  Suwarrow is part of the Cook Islands and because there is no one living there except for the 2 park rangers – it is completely untouched.  It’s a truly magical place and I can’t help but think if heaven exists on earth, Suwarrow must be it.  

Harry was a great guitar player and
entertained us with songs several times
We arrived early one morning after a 4 ½ day passage from Bora Bora.  We were delighted to see several of our favorite boats already anchored and loved being greeted by them as we made our way in.  Better yet, Charlie – one of the park rangers – soon showed up in his boat to usher us to a primo anchoring spot.  Little did we know then that Charlie would be such a big part of making our stay here so amazing.

After an easy visit from Harry and Charlie to get officially checked into the Cook Islands, we cleaned up the boat and enjoyed several social calls from friends, welcoming us and letting us know there would be a “happy hour” at 4pm that night on the beach.  Turns out BBQ’s and happy hours are a very common occurrence here at Suwarrow as it’s a great way to meet the other boats and good entertainment for Charlie and Harry – who have no internet and very little power – and so are living a “back to the basics” sort of existence.

Charlie's angels - he really loved the ladies!  ;)
While those gatherings were a lot of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed socializing with the other cruisers, it was really the island and the caretakers that provided the magic of this place.  It’s tough to explain, but it’s pretty incredible thinking about how you are out in the absolute middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean, experiencing nature as it’s meant to be – without human interference.  We had traveled thousands of miles to be in this place and to live these moments – and I’ll be honest that it was a little mind-blowing at times.

Charlie teaching us how to dance...I
definitely need more practice!
There are so many things to experience here – but the only way to see some of them are to have Charlie take you out on a tour, with you providing the fuel for the trip.  You see, the government only gives these guys a specific amount of fuel and provisions….and unfortunately while we were there they were so low on fuel that they couldn’t even keep their generator running long enough to keep their freezer cold enough.  So they rely on “donations” from visiting cruisers to keep them going, including any fuel we could spare.  So!  If you want to go touring – you provide the fuel!  

So many birds - careful where you step - eggs everywhere!
We took the tour with two other boats (Bravo and Mystic Moon) and it was amazing.  First stop – Bird Island (real name Gull Island), where thousands of birds are roosting and raising their families relatively untouched by man – the circle of life right before your eyes.   You had to be very careful where you walked as there were unguarded eggs everywhere.  It definitely reminded me of our visit to Isla Isabella back in Mexico – with a comparable amount of birds – just not as many trees for them to roost in.  

Another boobie for Jeremy!  ;)

Sooty Terns taking flight on "Bird Island"

One of 100's of baby birds

Charlie with some monster coconut crabs
After the birds it was time to visit “The Seven Islands” home of the infamous coconut crabs – and what a sight to see!  While most of the crabs were in the 8-10 inch range, Charlie brought some out to show us that were HUGE!!!  Check out the difference in coloring between the two crabs in the photo and note the powerful claws that could take your finger off in one quick clip – not to be trifled with for sure!   After some refreshing fresh coconut water (straight from the source) we were off to go snorkeling among some of the most amazing coral I have ever seen – spectacular!  Over all it was a GREAT tour thanks to Charlie and the good company of our friends on Bravo and Mystic Moon.

Kathy (Mystic Moon), Cyndy (Bravo) and I
enjoying some thirst-quenching coconut water

Manta ray photo care of Bravo since BV
doesn't have an underwater camera - thanks guys!
Another amazing sight was snorkeling with huge manta rays that make their home here.  While they can be much larger, the ones we swam with were about 10-12 feet wide and we saw as many as three at time just a ¼ mile from where we were anchored.  Manta Rays are “filter eaters”, so they swim along with their huge mouths open, filtering water through their gills while there are “plates” along the gills that trap the plankton that they eat.  They spend most of their day feeding as it can take up to 60 pounds (according to mantary-world.com) to keep them well fed.  Watching them glide around taking in food is really something – kind of peaceful in a strange way as they are incredibly graceful creatures and we felt very lucky to be able to witness them in the wild.

The beach at Suwarrow - site of many happy hours
Soon many of the boats departed and it was just us and one other boat left.  No complaints here though as Charlie had been hard at work brewing up a fresh batch of coconut beer and we were happily there for its unveiling.  I had expected something that would taste a little like moonshine, so imagine my surprise when it was more like a slightly sweet, delectable and fruity drink – DELICIOUS and DANGEROUS as it really packed a punch!  You definitely had to watch this beverage as it was smooth as silk and Charlie (being the ever-excellent host that he is) was quick to refill your glass whenever it was empty.  Turns out that not only is Charlie an excellent brew-master, he is also a great cook – serving us some of the best fish I have ever eaten.  I managed to pry the recipe out of him and look forward to giving it a try myself.

Brett putting together the projector for movie night
After a few new boats arrived we decided it was time for a movie night – complete with popcorn for everyone.  Charlie put up a white sheet for the “movie screen” and we all enjoyed watching George Clooney ham it up in the classic Coen brother flick – O’Brother, Where Art Thou – which was a big hit.  The coconut beer and popcorn had everyone in fine spirits by the end of the night and we felt great that we could provide some entertainment for everyone.  A request was made to Brett by Harry to show Pirates of the Caribbean the following night.  While Charlie gets most of the attention as he is the livelier of the two caretakers, Harry is one of those quiet, kind souls that you rarely meet and often remember for many years to come – so we were happy to oblige him.

Seattle Yacht Club burgee for the clubhouse
Sadly, all good things must come to an end as it was time to move on and make room for other visitors.  It was a very sad day when we checked out and gave big hugs to both Harry and Charlie – presenting them with an SYC burgee to remember us by and thanking them for making our stay in Suwarrow one of the best memories we have collected to date.  Before we left, Charlie came by with 7 coconuts perfectly cleaned and ready to enjoy as a parting gift – what a sweetheart!  As we exited the anchorage and rounded the island toward the pass, we saw Charlie waving a big flag to say goodbye one last time, followed by the much heard “I love you people” a little later on the VHF when we were out of site.  

Bella Vita anchored at Suwarrow
With tears in our eyes and wonder in our hearts, we gave thanks once again that we are on this amazing journey and able to share our lives with such incredible spirits along the way.

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