We arrived on the very remote island of Tahanea in the mid-chain of Islands call in old days, The Dangerous Islands, named so because they are a collection of very low lying Atolls surrounded by hull chewing reefs and many a ship has floundered in these waters. Today they are known as the Tuamotos. We selected Tahanea because of it's easy access thru the reef which is not the norm in these islands. The Tuamotos are also the home and source of many of the world market's finest Black Pearls. Because of this, Kaija has long had her heart set on visiting here, in search of just the right Black Pearl or Pearls as I would soon discover. However, I am getting ahead of myself as there are no Black pearls on Tahanea.
In fact there is not much of any kind of habitation on this atoll, short of an old abandoned fishing hut. There are however, a row of Tiki’s on the edge of the south pass and Kaija and I had fun erecting our own Tiki to add to the collection.
The atoll waters are clear and clean and full of fish. We delighted in drift diving the two passes holding onto the dinghy as it was pushed along by the rushing waters of the incoming tide. There were fish by the thousand, large and small, some of the biggest grouper we have seen, and Napoleon Parrot fish which can grow to 4 ft. This was our first sighting of the Giant Clam in such vibrant brilliant colors, amazing hues of the rainbow ranging in size from inches to 4 1/2 feet. And of course there were the sharks. There were a whole lot of sharks. Black Tip, Reef, White Tip & Greys and while it was quite evident that they had no lack of food, you felt a healthy dose of respect wariness in their midst.
We have been wary of fishing in the coral waters of French Polynesia because of Ciguatera, a toxin known to exist in reef fish. However, in meeting Francois and Johanna Sc Baies du Monde, the only other boat around, and sharing our common interest in fishing, Francois and I decided to see if we could ‘invite’ some lovely grouper or snapper to join us for a meal.
François had indicated that he was quite certain there was no issue with Ciguatera in these waters, but to be safe, leave the large blue spotted Groupers alone. This was hard to do, simply because they were so large, so close, so inviting. But following his advice we selected other fish for dinner. Francois shot a lovely snapper which he gifted to us as they had a freezer full of fish.
It didn’t take long to process and cook up this beautiful fish and sit down to what was to me, the best tasting fish I had ever eaten, no doubt in part to Kaija’s cooking, but it was excellent.
Shortly after dinner, Kaija complained that she wasn’t feeling terrific and this feeling persisted into the next day. The next evening, I again ate the snapper, she did not. Not long after eating, I too began feeling ‘off’. That night we both began to feel the effects of the toxin.
At first you feel slightly light headed. Then your limbs seem to feel slightly disjointed with a very real weakness throughout the body. This feeling persisted over the next couple of days. Then came the worst of it. That was the itching. Located in the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. It was unnnnnbeeeelievable! You felt like you wanted to scratch the skin off your body but primarily your hands and feet. And it would not stop. Kaija dosed us with meds designed to relieve itching and swelling. Nothing, nadda, it just persisted. This was an illness you would not wish on your worst enemy. Ok, wait, maybe this is exactly the illness you would wish on your worst enemy, not that y’all have any enemies, I’m just sayin :o)
We became avid students of this rare Toxic illness and learned that in severe cases it can be deadly. It is accumulative, in that you can eat small doses in fish with no effect and then one large dose can be the catalyst that triggers it. And, once you have it in your system, it is there for a verrrry long time.
It was a good solid month before the main symptoms finally receded and the itching stopped enough that you were not consciously scratching 24/7. However, in the evening hours, lying in bed, we would both be aware of the other person trying to scratch as quietly as possible not to set the other in motion. So be careful what you eat, even if told it is safe, be very very careful.