Gambiers Archipelago – Instalment 1

Da dah! Radio silence no more. I’m back in your inbox, bothering your browsing schedule after a gap of a few months. This means we have found 4G / WiFi to upload and download. The Gambiers deliver many positive superlatives, however the comms don’t make this shortlist, or the medium or long list for that matter. Crack on Elon Musk with your broadband satellites in the sky. 

We arrived in the first week in February. And left 3 months later. A longer stay than we’d imagined, extended primarily because we were able to get vaccinated while there. Impressive that a remote pacific archipelago was at that time, offering the Pfizer to visiting yachties. No cost. No questions. So thank you Gambier.

Having been away from this writing lark for a while, I’m unsure as to whether I should write a broad brush Gambian experience or pick a few stories and share them over a couple of episodes. Truth is I’m just going start writing and see where my brain takes me. 

The piccies should provide a bit of a visual impact to the kind of things we got up to here. The blues and greens of the land and seascape are intense and striking. The sand beaches brochure enhancing. It’s a crazy beautiful vista to feast your eyes on. 

What’s it like …..

In all the time we were in Gambier, we didn’t lock the boat or the tender. I definitely like living in such a world, even if this approach to security gives you the heebie-jeebies. Our experience was friendly generous locals. Giving away fruit seems to be part of the culture. I’d have a little conversation with someone and arrive back at the boat with a bag of mangos. 

To provide a balanced, more informed view of the place, the gendarmes we were told deal with around a few hundred investigations each year. When they are not stood outside their office drinking coffee and chatting which it seems fills a high proportion of their day.  Many are alcohol related…..two blokes get pissed and punch each other and domestic violence is sadly also prevalent we were told.

Approx. 1400 people live across a few islands, which are no more than about 10 miles apart. Rikitea, the village on the main island of Mangarava has a Marie, Gendarmerie, Clinic, Post Office, School, no bank or ATM and 5 small shops selling food. They all sell pretty much the same stuff.  3 of the shops are ‘hatches” in that you stand outside and ask for your items in your best french combined with vigorous pointing. The other two allow you to peruse the premises. Think Arkwright’s village shop in Cromford Derbyshire (if you know this fine establishment) as comparable for size and selection to the biggest shop called Jojo’s. No Thornbridge Ales available here though. Just Hinano lager at scary expensive prices. $3.40 for a vessel the size of a cola can. 

I liked going into Jojo’s as the women who serve always greet me. “Bonjour Helene, ca va?” I shared some photos of Cromford with them one day when it was quiet so they are my buddies now. Jojo’s is the one place we could pick up a modicum of internet. We perch outside round the back staring at screens trying to sort out life’s intricacies that only be done electronically. It was often a fruitless escapade.  I have no idea what’s happening in the Archers. 7th February was the last time I downloaded radio. (Dave thinks this a good thing!)

We discovered an online shopping facility based in Tahiti which will put your order on the boat.  There are two delivery boats that visit Gambier, both on an approximate 3 week cycle. We’ll give that a go we thought. Prices were certainly cheaper but more importantly, there was a much greater choice. Internet food shopping – should be straightforward. Dream on. The internet here rules or rather it doesn’t. It took us several attempts over 3 days to select our items and put them in a virtual basket. That was the easy bit. Actually paying for a selection of cheese and half a dozen bottles of wine was like trying to find a picture of Putin with a shirt on. Tricky.

The shopping site transferred us to a bank payment site and then came the spinning wheel of gloom. There just weren’t enough electrons to make this happened. 5 minutes later, the process crashed, took us back to the shopping site where the helpful software had wiped our basket so there’s 3 days of work spinning away in the ether. 

There’s a deadline of 12 lunchtime tomorrow to get our order accepted, paid for and lined up for the ship. We’re back at square one. And friends ask what we do all day. 😀

In the end, we used the sat phone to ring the UK and chat to Dave’s brother who was able to use our credit card details to satisfy the cheese order. Bloody complicated.

I’m happy to say our order did arrive. We milled around on the dock for three hours as containers and forklifts and barrels etc were unloaded by crane. But it was all there and the wine is being rationed according.

So next time your internet is a little slow at home and you have to wait 14 more nano seconds than normal to look at dancing cats or read the latest Laura Kunsberg article, imagine Gambier. 

That’s it for instalment 1. Non sure how many there’ll be. Keep tuned. 

5 thoughts on “Gambier

  1. Lis says:

    Wow those photos look absolutely fabulous, so lovely to hear all your news, it literally is a world away from here. I can hear your voice as I read the up dates Helen, you bring it all to life. Stay safe and keep sailing xx


  2. Garry Martin says:

    Good to hear you are safe and mostly sound. Despite its frustrations, shopping remotely from such an impossibly remote spot seems oddly romantic. I fully expected you to say that your delivery man would be Humphrey Bogart, still in hiding from Lauren Bacall. When can you land in New Zealand? Ever? Stay safe. Enjoy the mangoes, they’re always solid here and cost more than a can of Gambierian lager.


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