Published: November 29th 2011November 22nd 2011
The trip, my time on the Mata Fenua, is past the halfway point and I am already sad thinking about the end. Today the weather was not the greatest. It is hard to say the weather was bad, but it was cloudy, actually a welcome relief for my skin. (Side note: So we have many idioms where the translation does not make sense. The first one that comes to mind is “raining cats and dogs.” The French also have these, my new favorite is “Un coup de soleil.” Which means sunburn. Literal translation is hit, or punched, by the sun.)
Yesterday evening ended quickly after we had finished dinner, it was a long day and we were all tired from the sun and the many activities. I was able to wake up early for sunrise, but there was not much to see, clouds already blanketed the sky. Hinano had breakfast ready for us inside the cabin this morning due to the weather. Once finished with our meal we dropped off the boat and boarded two vans. One French speaking and one English speaking. My driver was Laurent, he was a very nice Polynesian about 20 years old. A
vanilla farm was our first stop and we were greeted by the madam of the farm, who walked us down a rocky, and partially muddy, hill to the green house where we were then introduced to the monsieur. The farmer was a large older gentleman I could have seen on our offensive line. He walked us into his greenhouse and started going over the specifics of production. My main takeaway was that these beans here are the only vanilla beans that actually mature on the plant. All others break open, if left until maturity, so they must me cut off and then are cured before full maturity. The ability to mature on the vine makes for a bean that has more oil and is more sweet and fragrant. He then showed us the process of pollinating the vanilla flower, it is a very manual process, every flower has to be touched to produce a bean, by touched I mean he opens the flower and then hand pollinates it. To reach full maturity it takes the bean nine months on the vine, after that it is another five months to cure. Talk about a long buying cycle, he has his time
and money wrapped up in product that will not produce a profit for two months into the second year. (I later found out that he supplements this income with cock fighting, he had several pens of roosters., there is a lot of money in the sport.) Of course they want to sell you something when we were done with the tour, I am taking back some extract and some vanilla powder. It all smells wonderful.
The next stop was at the top of the crater that forms the island, there were many clouds to obscure the still magnificent view. Evidently this is very typical weather here, along the interior of Raiatea, always cloudy and always raining. Very fertile land. Laurent told us a story on the way up the mountain about the way the islands were surrendered to France. There were wars for years over resources of the three largest cities on Raiatea. The first king to cave to the French had the fewest resources. The other two kings built walls on their borders and cut trade to “turncoat” king’s people. This kings land was not as fertile, his people had to live off of peanuts and
fishing for over ten years until the French were able to take the entire island in the name of France.
The third stop was to a historical archeological sight. Laurent again told us a story, this story was how Raiatae got its name. The island was originally called Havaii which means “bad smell all around.” The place we were heading to was used for sacrifice, animal and human. The king used the smell from these rotting corpses to deter anyone who might want to come to the island. Later a king with a share of the island decided to change the name of the entire island to the name of the territory that he owned. Hawaii, which was named after Havaii, kept its name. And now you know what Hawaii really means. The sight was very interesting to see, there was a stone that had circular notches in it representing the kings of all of the islands that make up Polynesia. They call it the triangle. These kings go and visit, every year, the other islands of Polynesia and must bring a stone from their home island. These stones are set into the ground or offered up
as an offering for the spirits. The largest stones are used as the high backs of thrones that the kings can lean against, while seated on the rock. After the tour we had some fresh fruits which were harvested right there in the area.
The final stop of the day was to a pearl boutique, we didn’t do the entire tour, just made a quick stop to see if their was anything anyone wanted. This shop had more options as far as settings and I am pretty sure they were selling pearls not approved by OPEC, the government entity that oversees the selling of pearls to make sure that poor quality pearls are destroyed and not sold, as the selling of these pearls hurts the brand that is the Tahitian Black Pearl and drives down the cost on quality pearls… or that may just be my economics classes kicking in. Margarette, worked with the shop owner to have a custom piece produced, a necklace that hangs low enough to act as the clasp to keep a linen shrug closed, that she plans to wear on Friday for the little soiree in the Hawaiki Nui. Laurent shuttled us
back to the boat when we were finished. Ralph made some funny comment about how a woman is never content, you take her to the French Polynesians sailing and it is always the next thing. Janet Jackson’s “What have you done for me lately” came to mind.
After thanking Laurent for the tour and the seven of us being back on the boat, we pushed out to a small motu, while enjoying another fabulous lunch by Hinano, to do some snorkeling. The weather was cloudy and it was raining on and off, Margarette and Nancy elected to stay behind, Ralph was only coming for the ride in the dingy. The owners of this private little island were away so we used a picnic table of theirs as home base, and dropped some things to stay dry in case the rain picked up. With the snorkel and mask on and my face in the water the weather didn’t matter any longer. This section of coral was beautiful. Not so much in color but in fish variety, and it was very close to the surface so it was very well lit and accessible. I looked the entire time for
Hand Pollinating the Flower
Every single one has to be done by hand
a sea horse and never saw one; seeing one is supposed to be good luck. They are very tough to spot, as they don’t really move, other than swaying in the ocean, and they are well camouflaged. I was the last out of the water and made my way over to Bernadette and Mirko, who were busy being on their honeymoon, so I quickly made my way towards the center of the island to find a coconut to break open. Wen told me to go in the sea kayak that he was towing back to the catamaran, which was pretty exciting. I tried to stand up and do a little bit of surfing/skiing which lasted all of one second before I had to bale on it and dive into the ocean. Stephane took a turn in the sea kayak and then him and I jumped off the back of the catamaran a few times. I have the one flip stuff down, I am working on completing a back one and a half cleanly now.
Dinner is always a fun time. The couples have their wine, and maybe a beer before, and me with my usual cocktail or
two. Stephane was on the lookout for sharks, and he would yell “Regard le requin!… est deux requin!… La la!” We jumped up on the back of the boat and made a big deal about it, we have a good time. Definitely a guy I would hang out with back at home, he has a great sense of humor, very sarcastic and it took me a while to know if he was serious or joking. The dinner conversations are great. It is funny being the only native English speaker here, but that is typically the shared language. We talk about the power and the manliness of the German language, lifting our glasses or beer and saying “Prute!” sp? Ralph still has not dropped it with the Bong Song, and we all encourage it, letting him know that we will download it the first opportunity that we have; I definitely will. I hope I am ready for the power! Dinner was pasta, fresh shrimp, kale and, as always, served with a baguette. I don’t know why I have never adopted this having a baguette with every meal, I really enjoy it. While enjoying our chocolate mousse we listened to Wen describe
our agenda for the next two days. Shortly thereafter he took off for home by way of dingy, his wife is pregnant with twins. Twin girls he found out today, they went to the doctor for an ultrasound while we had gone on our van tour. He was a little disappointed that he is not having a boy. Who can blame him? The rest of the group stayed up for a while sharing photos and the stories that go along with them, listening to the radio, and enjoying being away from it all. It is nice to have no internet and no phone, it took about a day to get used to, but I am dreading the thought of going back to my work life where I have my cell phone, a work phone, and an aircard so I can check email anywhere I travel. Two nights left after tonight to enjoy the people I have met on the boat, I am off to bed to sleep and hopefully tomorrow the sun will be shining in the East.
There are more photos below