Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One more backping trip?

Diamond Lake

My dog, Kuzca, is getting old (in December she'll be 13). That's pretty old for a dog her size and I feel fortunate that she's still happy and healthy. (I owe a lot of that to Christine, who got us in the habit of going on two walks a day.) With the summer winding down, and my own mobility about to be surgically hampered soon, I started to worry that I may be running out of opportunities to take Kuzca camping (one of her favorite things). Will she still be able to hike a few miles next year? I hope so, but I don't know. I try not to think about it too much, but it's reality.

Last weekend Kuzca and I went on a solo overnight backpacking trip into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. With Christine sidelined due to a to-be-determined injury she couldn't backpack in with us, but would day-hike up the next day with Banksy. The weather forecast wasn't ideal (lots of rain and wind), and the rangers at the forest service office definitely questioned my sanity when I picked up a permit, but it was now or never.

The hike up to Diamond Lake is only about 3 miles so it seemed like a good choice. Normally it'd be crowded, but I avoided that by going up on Friday morning. Our hike started in a light rain, but within 5 minutes the ran stopped and the sun came out for a beautiful hike. Lot's of wild flowers.

We ran into a few people at the lake, but before long the rain came back and everybody left. I'm not a big fan of camping in the rain, but it did give us the rare opportunity of having this high mountain, close to Boulder lake all to ourselves for the whole night. I can deal with a little rain for that.

The next morning the rain had stopped and the wind blew in some low clouds, but it was shaping up to be a pretty nice day. Kuzca and I mulled around camp for a while before eventually packing up and hanging out by the lake. We were sitting in a spot that allowed me to see the incoming trail so I could see when Christine and Banksy showed up. Banksy was hilarious. Even from all the way across the lake I could recognize his craziness when he got to the lake. He was so excited and was running around and around in circles with another dog.

As they got closer to where I was sitting, Kuzca started to pay attention and I could tell she was a little curious about the little person and the big black dog in the distance. She soon realized who it was and got super excited. Mayhem ensued when they got closer and Banksy realized we were there. Total crazy dog running around chasing sticks in the water and just generally running around at full speed.

Christine had managed to get there for the best weather of the day. Lot's of sunshine while we sat by the lake and at lunch. It didn't last long, though, and as we were walking down the trail to the car it started to rain quite a bit. We got nice and wet, but at least it kept things cool and we had a leisurely hike back to the car. Success on my first (and probably only) backpacking trip this year.

Flickr photo set here.

Waiting out a rain storm in the tent
Nap after a day of hiking
Crazy wet dog

Sunday, August 24, 2014

French Polynesia

Remember that time Christine and I went to French Polynesia? Yeah, I hardly do either. It was back in April and I’m just getting around to this blog post….

Tahiti was never really on our list of places to visit. Not because it didn’t sound awesome, but it’s just never been on the radar. Around Christmas 2012 our vagabond sailing friends Livia and Carol came to visit while they were taking a break from their stay in French Polynesia applying for a long stay visa. Armed with a library of postcard hero shots of their paradise, they somehow managed to convince us to visit. When your friends tell you to come stay with them on their boat in the south Pacific, you don’t say no.

The plan was hatched and many moons later we were on our way to French Polynesia. Our journey would take us from Denver, through LAX (an awful place), to Tahiti. Then we would catch a small plane to the Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotu Islands. Hey, a lot of people have been to Tahiti, but who gets to go to Fakarava??
Last minute dog snuggles
Last minute puppy snuggles are important before going to the airport.

Where the heck is Fakarava anyway? Near Tahiti:

After a lengthy travel day(s), we were greeted at the Fakarava hut airport by Livia and Carol, who had also arranged a ride for us to get to their boat. We spent the afternoon getting reacquainted with the stately S.V. Estrellita 5.10b and doing any necessary provisioning while we were at the most inhabited place on the atoll. The plan for the rest of our stay was to spend a few days parked at various places around the atoll. On a sailboat, you're always a slave to the weather. You want to be parked in places where you'll be protected from whatever weather is coming in, and it's great to have experienced sailors and virtual locals like our captains. Even with some unusual wind, they had it all figured out.

Our first parking spot was at the motu of Harifa. (A motu is an island that's formed where the coral atoll sticks above the water.) There is a family that lives on this motu and they were preparing to open a restaurant for guests of nearby pensions. That's great news for us, because they were holding a Polynesian feast as a celebration, complete with a pig roasted in the sand. More on that later.

When you're walking around the motu you're essentially walking around someones yard, so it's nice to talk with the people who live there and make sure it's okay. Of course it was okay, and they were super nice. They even let us collect some green coconuts before we went to walk along the reef on the ocean side of the motu. Livia and Carol had a checklist of "experiences" that we needed to complete and collecting coconts was one of them. Green coconuts are good for the sweet water inside. After you manage to rip one out of a tree (in this case we had a nice long hook to use), you use your giant rusty machete to carve a nice opening in the top. Thankfully Carol was experienced in this area because Christine and I were making a mess of it. Later in the trip, learned how to open brown coconuts, and also also the joys of dumping some rum into a juicy green coconut.

Coconut Queen Bumps on a log

With a little time the next day to kill before the feast and acceptable winds, Carol was itching to try out his new kiteboarding gear. After he showed us what it looks like when you do it right, Christine and I got harnessed up and just flew the kite (no board). It's hard enough to keep the kite in the air, I imagine it takes quite a bit of practice to do it with a board under your feet. Seems like a fun time.

On to the feast. The family started early in the morning with preparing the food and the pit. They built a fire in the pit and when it burned down they stacked various meats wrapped in leaves (okay, and some foil too). After the food was layered in the pit they carefully put sand shoveled sand back into the pit. For the very top layer of sand, they used lighter colored sand so they could easily see any smoke that was escaping and plug the hole. Their outdoor dining room was set up with a few tables for people and a long table for all of the food they had prepared. It was impressive. They had to keep squeezing dishes together to make more room for more food that was coming out of the kitchen. There were various types of smoked meats, some banana dishes, fish, and more. So delicious.

Well fed and rested, we left Harifa in the morning for the South Pass. The coral atoll ring is broken at the South Pass, which allows ocean water to sweep in and out of the atoll with the tide. The sea water brings nutrients and food into the atoll and the rich water is home to colorful coral and beautiful fish. The area is a UNESCO world heritage sight.

There aren’t a lot of safe places to park in the pass, but thanks to some friends of Livia and Carol’s we were able to park on a mooring in a sweet spot in the pass that would give us a great home base for playing in the area. Upon arrival Carol needed to get in the water to check the mooring gear (and make sure we weren’t going to float away in the middle of the night). I grabbed my snorkeling gear and hopped in the clear blue water too. While he was off doing real work, I was awestruck just looking around in the water. You could see thirty feet down to the ocean floor. And I had a good clear look at the sharks in the water. Yes, sharks. Mostly black tip sharks. They’re not very menacing, but it’s still a little strange at first to be swimming in the open water with them.
Ryan and Christine explore South Pass
Look out you're being followed  by sharks!

One of the great things to do at the pass is snorkel over the coral. The best way to do is to time it with the tides so that you’re snorkeling as the water is flowing into the pass. You hardly have to swim because the current carries you over the coral. It feels like flying. It’s amazing. Over the course of the few days we were there, we did this snorkel run probably twice a day. Despite the massive beauty of the pass, its remoteness prevents any crowds of people. Some people scuba dive there, but other than that we didn’t see any other people in the water. Can you imagine having a place like this all to yourself? Believe it.
Pictures don't do it justice.

One of the things I was most looking forward to doing on our trip was spearfishing. Snorkeling around in clear blue water with sharks and a spear gun? Yes please. While there are tons of fish in the water, not all of them are edible. Some of them are contaminated with a toxin called ciguatera. The “safe” fish vary from anchorage to anchorage too, so it’s typically best to check with any locals in the area.

Since there are sharks in the water, one person would fish while the another swam nearby with the dingy. When a fish was speared, you get it out of the water and into the dingy as soon as possible so the sharks wouldn’t come over and steal your fresh kill. On my first trip out, Carol and I went to various coral heads near the boat and looked for fish. Thanks to my excellent coach, I speared a fish on that first trip. We went fishing several times with varying levels of success. Even when we didn’t spear any fish, you’re snorkeling in some amazing water so it’s still a great time.
Ryan's first catch Spearfishing
Catch of the day Ready. Aim. Fire.
Fish on the beach fire
Fresh catch on our beach coconut fire. (Marble grouper on left, parrot fish on right)

From the south pass, we sailed up to the north pass of the atoll. Surprise - it was also beautiful. We anchored near another beautiful reef and did some more spearfishing, snorkeling, stand up paddling, beach walking, lounging. Life was feeling really difficult at this point.
Ryan on the SUP Christine and Ryan at North Pass beach

Unfortunately, we our trip was coming to an end. The day before our flight we went back to the main village to get prepped to leave. We did some shopping, and walking around, but mostly we just tried to soak in as much sun and water as we could before we left.

What a great and memorable trip. As we stood in check-in line at the Tahiti airport, I couldn't help but think about how nobody had quite the vacation we just did. I'm sure they had a great time at their resorts, but I think we got to see something completely different. We're lucky to have such good and adventurous friends that are willing to share their adventure with us.

More photos on Flickr.
Group shot
Captains Carol and LIvia