This is an off-the-track place. And it offers the promise of a dazzling, off-the-track experience of Polynesia.

November 5, 2014


Galactic at the dock Mike Litzow

Rapa has no airport, gets fewer than ten yacht visits a year (from what I’m told) and is visited by the supply ship every two months.

This is an off-the-track place. And it offers the promise of a dazzling, off-the-track experience of Polynesia.

Arnold in their taro fields Mike Litzow

Two days at sea from Ra’ivavae put us in the proper frame of mind for seeing Rapa for the first time. Convoluted spires of lava lost in the impossible vastness of the Pacific. A four and a half meter swell.


We pulled into the caldera that forms the harbor within this island – and found an expedition cruise ship at the dock. It was stuffed with people from a “Pristine Seas” project – marine biologists and Pew Charitable Trust people and a National Geographic film crew. They had a Chief Scientist and an Expedition Leader and they were going fishing with the locals and engaging them about community-based fisheries management and Marine Protected Areas and in the evening they were inviting the community to a reception on board – free beer and good food – and showing the locals a film of themselves fishing, shot by said National Geographic film crew.

Before that, our friends on Hera were at the dock for a week or two.

And shortly before THAT, the French Polynesian government ship, the Tahiti Nui, was here with their own film crew AND a helicopter, and they were taking locals out to the very very remote Iles Morotiri (fifty miles away, indifferently charted) to catch lobsters as long as your arm.


Our friend Patrice, who was here a year ago, rhapsodized to us about how everyone in Rapa stopped to shake his hand.

Ain’t no one stopped to shake our hand in the first two days we’ve been here. The arrival of Galactic has not been the biggest event of the year.

But hey – don’t matter one bit to us. “We’re just happy to be here,” is the enduring Galactic motto.


And – presto, it turns out that the Chief Mate of the expedition cruise ship is from Tasmania (“the strangest island in the Pacific”), and is mutual friends to a great mate to Galactic. So she kindly asked her captain for permission for us to raft up to them at the dock, and before we knew it we were scrubbed up and climbing the pilot ladder en famille, bound for the reception for the locals.

Not at all what we expected to be doing in Rapa. But even more fun for all that.

But then today (our second day), it seems to have begun. The completely out of the box Polynesian social experience.


At the reception we ran into the Togolese nurse who Alisa briefly met at Ra’ivavae, and who is now working here. So of course we invited him over to the boat the next night for a feed. (“Togolese” – isn’t that the greatest adjective?)

Alisa “I haven’t seen a supermarket in five months” Abookire was trying to get dinner ready while the boys were more or less going crazy down below. I wisely chose that moment to be on deck, doin’ stuff. A Rapa man stopped by the boat to chat with me – an optimistic verb choice, that, chat, since he and I share about twenty words of mutual vocabulary. Soon he asked to come aboard for a visit. Absolutely, I said. Soon enough after that, we managed to convince his wife to come aboard. Very soon after that, they invited us to come to their house for Sunday dinner.

(Imagine, the next time you come across someone in your home country who does not speak your language, that you react by immediately inviting them and their family to dinner at your home. You can’t imagine it, can you?)

Tongi! We replied. Thank you, we would love to.

Alisa handed out pieces of the flat bread that she was making for dinner. Our guests, Lucie and Arnold, nibbled away, and then started making spreading motions over the palm of one hand, saying “confiture” and “framboise”.

Elias and Arnold Jr. Mike Litzow

Ah, yeah, jam, I replied after checking the dictionary. Good stuff, that.

Arnold and Lucie responded by chucking myself, Eric, Elias and four-year-old Arnold Junior into the family truck and driving us to their home. In the truck Lucie continued the steady stream of junk food for the boys that Arnold had begun when he first walked up to the boat. We got to their house and Lucie packed a little care package for us – a couple liters of frozen berries, a jar of jam, a bucket of potatoes and carrots. Arnold went into the garden to pick a different sort of berry for us. They seemed disappointed that we didn’t have a freezer on the boat – lord knows what they would have given us if we had.

My instinct is that refusing a gift in Polynesia can be a very rude thing to do. I very cheerfully accepted the lot.

And then we all drove back to the boat. I wondered if they would drop us off or come aboard. That would be the latter.

Arnold Junior went forward with our boys and they all cheerfully went completely apeshit together.

Alisa kept cooking. And Arnold and Lucie and I sat around and had a pleasant visit.

Except, and I cannot stress enough what a surreal element this gave to the whole interaction, we could not speak to each other except in the most rudimentary way.

Late-night party animal Mike Litzow

And, it’s all so fun and uncomplicated and different from anything that we are used to. This attitude – there are people here, we don’t know them, can’t speak to them, but hey, they’re people, they probably eat, let’s take them home and give them a big feed – it’s so Polynesian. And it can be so disorienting. We think we’re having a full day of travel that will be capped by a dinner we’ve planned for a guest, and through the odd gyrations of the day we’re keeping family life more or less on schedule. And then suddenly it’s all overturned by a very fun, slightly incomprehensible social experience featuring strangers sitting in our living room.

That’s the psyche-Rapa-delic part. And it’s what has kept us coming back to Polynesia again and again.

We’re looking forward to Sunday very much.

Meet the crew of Galactic: Mike and Alisa Litzow and their sons Elias and Eric. “When we left Alaska to sail to Australia with our toddler for crew, we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But then we had our second child, and bought our second boat, and sailed across the Pacific a second time. We’ve been living aboard for seven years now. Sometimes we wonder how long we’ll keep at it, but all we know for sure is that the end doesn’t seem to be in sight just yet.” Follow their story at


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