- You can communicate a whole range of greetings and emotions with your eyebrows alone.
- The smell of rancid coconuts rotting in the midday sun doesn’t bother you anymore.
- When you ask a local a question and they answer “YES” you know that A. that does not mean the answer is actually yes, or B. that they understood the question at all.
- You usually ask a local if a fish you caught is safe to eat – free of ciguatera, a highly toxic and very localized fish poisoning. And when they say “Yes” you know to see above.
- When provisioning or looking for hardware store items you expect to visit at least half a dozen stores and only find half of the items on your shopping list.
- You no longer trust the accuracy of your charts and consider sticks and rebar acceptable navigation beacons.
- Limes and coconuts are considered staple foods onboard.
- You can self-diagnose and treat fungal infections, staph infections and cellulitis and know the difference between the symptoms of dengue fever and malaria.
- You’ve eaten over 25 varieties of bananas, probably in 25 different ways.
- You consider cyclone season the perfect time to sail around the islands; better winds and a heck of a lot less boats!
Amidst the unfamiliar countries and uneasiness of travel the markets are where I find a connection to the people, to the landscape. Although I have a deep and passionate relationship with food this is not why I seek out these places. It is the everyday-ness of the market that I crave.
Disconnected from family, country, home and all that is familiar the markets are a constant in our travels. The world over people grow food and make goods and sell them in a common space. The produce sold, the faces smiling back at me and the colour of the money changes but the routine is always the same. People coming together to sell food, buy supplies and socialize. Unlike the tourist I am not looking for the exotic, I am searching for the familiar.
On the remote island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia I would wake at 5am, before the dawn, and dinghy across the harbour to go to the Wednesday morning market. You had to get up that early, at 9 degrees south business is done before the wilting heat of the sun brings island life to a halt. After weeks of long passages and limited fresh vegetables I was excited by what might be there to buy.
On the 21st morning of our passage I wake long before the alarm goes off for my 0600 watch. The early morning air is warm so I dress lightly in a short sleeve top and yoga pants then step out into the cockpit to check our position. Steve and I share a quick good morning snuggle behind the binnacle, silently enjoying the dawn light before doing our usual change of watch rundown of heading, speed, weather and interesting observations.
Our last night at sea was calm and as the full moon disappears into a beautiful peach sunrise we watch the light creep slowly across the sky revealing the outline of Hiva Oa, our first destination in the Marquesas. Three weeks of staring at waves, clouds and the wind, if that’s possible, make the island appear large and menacing before us. It heaves steeply out of the ocean, alone and sharp against the horizon, its tallest peaks mired in puffball clouds that seemed snagged on the rock itself.
There is an excitement on board, a sense of pride that we’ve almost completed what, to me once seemed an impossible passage. For months I wondered how we could possibly sail 3000NM, non-stop and all alone, across one of the largest stretches of uninterrupted ocean on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. When we first bought Kate, our 41’ sloop, three years ago, even considering our departure brought a litany of what if’s to mind. What if we were caught in a storm, what if we had a catastrophic mechanical failure, what if we had to abandon ship, what if there was an accident and one of us was badly injured, what if it was Steve. Would I have the skills to sail single-handed? Would I have the fortitude to carry on? The list of questions and scenarios were so overwhelming that some days all I could do was dismiss them, saving them for a time when I felt confident and strong. By the time we left Ilsa Isobela in the Galapagos I knew that this trip would be like every other, not 3000NM today but the next four hours that I am on watch and responsible to keep us on course and out of danger. A series of small event strung together by time, the grains of sand that cumulatively make a beach.