Jun 19, 2014

Raivavae - The Bora Bora of 50-75 Years Ago

You'll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.
Dr. Seuss

Bénitier (giant small clam) 
Although they come in different colors the blue ones are my favorites
We thought we were in a bind when the freight boat we had planned on boarding to come to the Austral Islands decided to change course, not caring of the impact it also has on the local farmers and fishermen.  They plan the picking of their crops/fish/seafood around the arrival of that boat.  If the boat is a week ahead or behind, crops are not picked on time or have been picked too long ago.  This is especially true when dealing with flowers, fragile fruits, vegetables or fish/seafood, making them no longer sellable.  It also means some stores run out of items: diesel, gasoline, cream, fresh fruits and veggies, etc.

Mairie (town hall) - quaint
We, at least, had the choice of coming here by plane with some quick last minute reorganizing – something the farmers or fishermen cannot do.  


Smiling female tiki - The other two tikis are in the Tahiti Museum
We had seen a smiling tiki in the Marquesas and were assured it was the ONLY one in French Polynesia
Lonely Planet calls Raivavae the Bora Bora of 50-75 years ago.  This description lacks originality but is somewhat true.  The waters in the lagoon around Raivavae are crystal clear and aquamarine.  The lagoon is beautiful, the island quiet and crossed by a hike-able crest.  However, the lagoon is not nearly as navigable as the one in Bora Bora for it is riddled with reef potatoes.  Every time I read such a description I hope that they don’t ever become the new Bora Bora, that they keep their identity and not sell out to tourism.  There is much more agriculture in the Austral Islands, they are recognized somewhat as the breadbasket of French Polynesia. They grow tomatoes, citrus, coffee, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins, taro, bananas, avocados, etc. 

Things grow so fast in this lush region that the first time we try we fail to locate the trail to the highest point, Mt Hiro at 437 meters or approximately 1,400 feet.  Being late in the afternoon we are not too distraught by our misadventure and wander about the island to see what will come up.  Wouldn’t you know we come across the Airport Chief and his wife.  They had moved here only 3-4 months prior and had already climbed the summit twice.  They gave us the directions we needed for the following day’s exploration.  We had asked a local young adult and to our dismay, although he had been raised here, he had never been to the top and didn’t know how to get there.  How can you live on less than 40 square kilometers and not know every inch of it by the time you are 12 years old?  That seems so inconceivable to us! They wished us luck and had hoped to come along but had to work that day.  The airport only receives three flights a week – not exactly backbreaking work.
Steep rugged cliffs
Not so well maintained church - They call them temples here... 
Still beautiful colors and patterns
The air is definitely cooler.  The lagoon is the clearest we’ve seen yet.  We watch several dogs dozens of yards away still only belly-deep in the water hunting sea creatures, fish or crabs? We don’t know but they are at it for very long periods of time and seem to be enjoying it very much.

Dog chasing sea life...
Copra goes to Tahiti in these bags - You see them in brown burlap or white plastic everywhere
We had to buy a long sleeve shirt for Mike – try to find such an item in Tahiti where it hardly ever goes below 80F!  We managed to find something for him just before our departure – We hadn’t planned on being in cooler climes.  We are reminded, although it messes with our minds, that the North part of these islands is actually the one facing the hot sun of the afternoon, not the South part.  So North is South and South is North… North is drier, South is greener. It does mess with you a little when you see the sun to the East and think – well – stop thinking from the northern hemisphere way or you’ll get turned around. 


Our front yard - well landscaped
Beautiful flowers
Other than the air being cooler and North being South we notice that the local language sounds a lot more like Chinese than Tahitian to our unpracticed ears.  The intonation is much more like the singing of that oriental language.  Our host and her son even look quite Asiatic.

Unfortunately smoking cigarettes still is rampant.  The visiting French and the locals smoke heavily and they do not have the consciousness to only smoke out of doors, or away from non smokers, something we have become accustomed to in Canada, the US, and even Mexico…  Other than the Marquesas, we have been surrounded by smokers everywhere in French Polynesia. 


Drying pandanu leaves for making of hats, mats, purses, bags, curtains, etc
We visit a couple of artisans shops and see the expected woven hats, mats, bags, crowns, door or window decorations but unfortunately fail to see the products being made.  We like to purchase from the person(s) making the art piece so we can feel their energy, get to know them, and also be assured we are not buying something that has been made in China or Taiwan and resold as Polynesian art… 

There is also much jewelry made from mother of pearl, again, no one is around working on any of the pieces we see so we don’t buy. 

We hardly see a soul even though we walked nearly the whole island.  We are told everyone is either in their field or fishing.  Fields all seem to be further away from the road and/or behind tall edges so it’s hard to see anything.  When we do get a peek at what’s behind these edges we are always charmed by beautiful gardens and colorful homes.  Some people prepare and dry the famous pandanu leaves for the various types of weavings they make. 

Few tourists invading these islands mean much fewer vehicles invading the roads.  It is a lot more peaceful, quiet, and clean. 

Crickets have the air, we barely hear the surf since the reef is far away and the winds are nil.  Geckos take over with their clicking sounds when the lights come on at night.  The further we go away from the Equator, the shorter the days and the taller the tidal ranges.  We enjoy the Southern Cross in the show of stars above.


Female rock (read legend below) 
Our host Linda and male rock
After showing us the only remaining tiki on the island, our hostess Linda tells us the legend of the male rock and of the female rock.  Before I get to that let me mention that this tiki was female, was missing an ear, and was SMILING!  We were told in the Marquesas that there were no other smiling tikis and that few; very few tikis were females.  We must have just lucked out!   
Going on daily pirogue practice
Back to the legend it goes as follows:  "After some village dispute it was decided that whoever would move a rock the furthest before the rooster would crow the following morning would win.  A man and a woman were given the task.  The man being stronger quickly moved the rock to the edge of the lagoon but took a quick rest after working so hard.  Upon seeing this, the woman imitated the call of a rooster and the man, thinking it was already morning left the rock where it was and went to sleep.  The woman had time to move her rock all the way to the middle of the lagoon before the real rooster began to sing and won the contest."  The one interpretation of this story says that the woman used her brain rather than her strength.  Men prefer to say the woman cheated…  I’ll let you decide how you feel about this legend. 

At our arrival we didn’t receive a flower necklace and thought it was just another pension who no longer cared for the tradition but we were reminded that we were supposed to arrive a day later by boat – they didn’t have time to make a flower necklace.  Instead they would make one for us and give it to us at our departure, which they did.  It meant that when we received another necklace upon our arrival in Tubuai, we were loaded with two beautiful and colorful necklaces laced with a little basil to supposedly help ward off the bugs. 

Being that there are more colorful leaves than flowers at this time of the year on the islands – remember it is nearly winter solstice here (only a week to go), we get many leaves, some seeds, and fruit pieces in the necklaces.  It is very creative, beautiful, and sometimes very nicely perfumed.


From the top of Mt Hiro 
To the blue lagoon below
Beautiful, peaceful
Mount Hiro’s hike was very steep and slippery but we managed.  Going up was easier than sliding down.  We were glad it hadn’t rained the prior two days or it would’ve been much worse.   The view of the entire lagoon and island was spectacular from that vantage point.  Good way to start the day.  We explore the other end of the island when we come back down.  We are very tired when we finally settle for the day and can hardly stay awake for a delicious dinner of poisson cru, vegetables au gratin, BBQ ribs from grandpa’s old pig, soursop in coconut milk, cooked wahoo; too much to choose from really.  

Around the table are people from Iran, Switzerland, Germany, France, Canada, and US…  Two itinerant medical people are also there.  She is a midwife, he is a GP and they do various rotations around the islands.  She stays only in the Austral Islands, he covers all archipelagos of French Polynesia.  They were also supposed to be on the boat that never came to get us, waiting for its arrival – whenever that will be.  Meanwhile they have many stories to share and help us understand the local medical system.

Before the descent 
Ferns 5 feet tall - Runway in background
We watched as the roosters, chickens, and cats fight over the grounded coconut left from dinner’s preparations.  I never knew cats could be fans of coconut.  Speaking of plants, we see tamanu grows here too but it is of a different species.  The tamanu found in the Society Islands is used to make oil; here it is only used for its seeds in the making of necklaces. 

Acacia trees here too are taking over but we see that most have complete bands of bark missing from their trunks, a way to kill them and get rid of this invading specie.  We had hoped that being this far away invasive species wouldn’t have such strong hold but they seem to.  


View from reef motu (islet)...
...to island of Raivavae
Discarded bénitier (giant small clams) shells
We attempt a quick kayak trip to a nearby motu (islet) before our flight takes us to our next island.  The way there is calm and easy and we reach our destination in about 20 minutes.  As we get there we barely have time to walk around we feel the wind pick up, we see the clouds build up and darken, we hurry back before a storm makes things worse.  We take 45 minutes to get back with winds and waves interfering with our progress.  We make it in time before windier conditions show up.  At least we had time to see the motu’s view of the island.  We were told to beware of sudden changes in weather in the Austral Islands – there you have it!


Gone fishing
We find no snack bars, no restaurants, and no side street vendors.  Only a couple of stores sell the basics: oil, spices, flour, frozen meats, veggies, etc.  People cook at home and grow the majority of their food.  It’s much more back to survival mode than other islands we’ve been to who depend way more on what the boat will bring that time…

Saving the bananas from the rats

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