If Maupiti is the gem at the tail of French Polynesia then Mopelia is the jewel at the tip of that tail. And our tale of Mopelia really has to start at Maupiti. Maupiti is a high island with electricity, running water, a few stores and restaurants, and a bakery. Mopelia, on the other hand, is an atoll that houses six or so families who do subsistence farming, gathering from the reef and lagoon, and copra production to raise money. None of the modern conveniences.
On our next-to-last day at Maupiti we were sitting on the boat having a late, lazy breakfast when a local man pulled alongside in his little boat. And thus Bowie Tropee entered our lives briefly and enriched them. Bowie asked us (in French) if we were going to Mopelia. After several attempts (because we just couldn’t believe that’s what he was asking) we responded in the affirmative, that we were leaving the next day. Bowie then asked if he could come along for the ride. It’s about 100 miles, so it was going to be a brief overnight trip for us. We hemmed and hawed a little bit, but in the end we agreed to take Bowie to what amounts to the ends of the earth. We didn’t really know/comprehend that in doing that we were also agreeing to take all of his “stuff”.
Later that day Bowie showed up with his weedwhacker, a case of soda, a couple of boxes of dry goods, a huge bag of coconuts, a full stalk of bananas, 45 lbs of rice, and some other odds and ends. We agreed that he should join us himself the next day at 2 in the afternoon, but at 10 the next day he dropped by with 2 ice chests full of frozen chicken, two boxes of locally grown produce (peppers, eggplant, cucumbers), a couple of duffle bags, the mail for everyone else on Mopelia, and who knows quite what else. Between his two boatloads of supplies we were loaded to the gills.
Bowie came back at departure time, and while we were getting the boat underway he started cooking “Chicken a la Bowie” (or more properly “Poulet a la Bowie”). He made himself right at home in the galley, cut up some of his frozen chicken thighs, and some of the peppers, and eggplant, and whatever other secret ingredients he had. In the end we had enough food for all of us for several meals.
Bowie was a great addition to our crew, he even kept watch for most of the day. With some butchered French we found out his father is from Maupiti but his mother’s family is from Bora Bora, originally from Germany. He was heading to Mopelia to work for the year farming copra with his 24-year-old son Kevin who was already there. It didn’t sound like Bowie’s father (Kevin’s grandfather) was too keen on coming with him so Bowie came by himself.
After a night of sailing we got to Mopelia at mid-morning the next day. The pass at Mopelia is somewhat notorious, narrow and with strong currents. Bowie shared his local knowledge, took Erika’s job of pointing out the coral heads, and was a great lookout getting through the pass, overall making it pretty easy.
When we got to Mopelia Bowie directed us through the lagoon to an anchorage right in front of his “house”. Wayfinder, a 50 ft. St. Francis catamaran, was already anchored nearby. They stopped by as we were unloading Bowie’s stuff and they helped take a dinghy load to shore. The weather was promising to turn a little foul the next morning, and the anchorage in front of Bowie’s wasn’t going to be pleasant, so as much as we wanted to stay and spend a couple of days with our new friend we had to move on down to the south end of the island to get some protection. Hearing that, Bowie introduced us to his friend Edgar, who would be our “family” at the south end of Mopelia.
The next morning Edgar paddled out in his kayak to greet us at our southern anchorage, invited us ashore for dinner at his house, and delivered a bucket of six lobsters he and Bowie had caught and cooked the previous night. All-in-all we felt like these kind, generous folk did far more for us than we did in giving someone a lift to someplace we were already going.
Wayfinder joined us at the south end of the lagoon that next morning, and we both spent five days hiding from some moderately nasty weather, enjoying the beaches, the clear water, the company, and the complete lack of cell phones and other modern conveniences.
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