Jun 6, 2014

Rangiroa - Vast Sky Atoll

Travel makes one modest; 
You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
Gustave Flaubert 

White terns flying above lagoon
Our second Tuomatu atoll and it’s just as windy, cloudy, and stormy as it was in Tikehau so we don’t get to see as much as we’d like but cannot complain as we watch sailboats and catamarans wildly pitching and bucking side to side or up and down at anchor.  They are waiting for a nice weather window to get out of here and some have been here for nearly a week… 

We thought we felt trapped visiting atolls by land rather than by water but it seems we may have the best deal after all.  On the first atoll we stayed on the lagoon side, here we are on the ocean side.  Better breeze to keep things cooler.  Even though it is winter, weather is still very balmy.  Winter is supposed to be the drier season and to date it doesn’t feel very dry.

White tern in dead tree at edge of lagoon

Their publicity claims that Rangiroa is the 2nd largest atoll in the world but it’s more in the ranks of 23rd.  It could fit Tahiti inside its borders – it is very large. 
Palm tree shadows in shallow lagoon
We visit with our friends on Sundance who made it to the Marquesas a day before us.  Many boaters like them managed to only visit 2 or so atolls while we visited all of the Society Islands, and 2 atolls (at a speed of 400+ knots!).  Even by boat, they cannot visit other areas of the lagoon for the winds are too strong.  They stay at anchor in what is considered the most protected lagoon and yet they are still moving around too much for a restful night sleep.  If they want to visit what else Rangiroa has to offer they have to pay for guided visits by locals with powerful small boats who are not currently offering any excursions due to the inclement weather... 

Baby palms, mature palms, beach line
Rangiroa has a green lagoon where the sand is so white that the overhead palm trees reflect their green foliage in the water making the water a beautiful green.  It has a blue lagoon that is used as a shark nursery for two types of sharks:  the black tipped and lemon.  There is also an area called God’s Aquarium, a favorite of divers and snorkelers.  It has the reef island, a motu still covered with jagged pieces of reef of many shapes, one in particular becoming somewhat of a Jacuzzi with the right waves/tide.  ‘Vin de Tahiti’ grows its grapes here and makes 3 white wines and one rosé.  Two of their wines have won silver medals in Parisian competitions two years in a row…  We will try to find a bottle or two when we return to Tahiti just to say we have tried wines grown in corals.  Before deciding on growing vines here, the owners went to all 5 archipelagos to decide which one had the best growing conditions. 

Even in 20 knot winds, the locals paddle
The birds face the wind - waiting
...and waiting...
There is a pearl farm (Gauguin’s Pearl) but with the prices of pearls tumbling they went from 70 full-time employees 5 years ago to now only 20 part-time employees. Legitimate Japanese buyers of pearls stopped attending pearl auctions when it was discovered that many others would not go through legal channels to buy pearls making it an unfair market for the ones who did.  

The government is trying to legitimize the French Polynesian market again but it will take a while to recover from this and the fact that there are too many pearls being produced.  Grafting for other pearl farms in French Polynesia is done here.  They have the best conditions to grow young oysters and pearls when they are in their most sensitive stage of growth.  They also work the nacre once an oyster is done producing their pearls (maximum of three per oyster).  They can make beauty products with the powdered nacre, buttons, inlays, jewelry, purses, pareo ties, etc.  Many beautiful nacre carvings can be found. 
Made of over 400 flowers in a twist pattern - Thank you Manahiri
The foul weather leaves us more time to meet people since we cannot move around too much.  We stop at a small street side café and fall in love with Loic and Manahiri from New Caledonia.  They are so much fun to speak with and serve great food at a good price.  Manahiri offers me a flower necklace – now flower necklaces are given at arrival as welcoming gifts and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Most foreigners receive the $3-$5 version made of about 30-40 flowers.  Most weddings, funerals, and important people receive the $35-$50 version, much more complicated in design and with 10-15 times the amount of flowers.  Manahiri gave me the $50 version!!!  Not sure why – she was just in the mood to make someone happy – she’s that type of person.  If you stop in Rangiroa look for Rangiroa Plage Lodge and look for their little café Snack la Roulotte  You will not regret it. 

We unknowingly chose a pension where the wife is the baker for Rangiroa…  You can imagine the breakfasts we are being served each morning - - - easy on the palate, not easy on the waistline…  Delicious warm and fresh croissants, pains au chocolat, sesame seed baguettes, homemade pamplemousse marmalade, Jesuits (a type of pastry with almonds), etc.  

Shrine made with pearl oyster shells
Close up of shrine
Three small tombs - unmarked
We also tastes Taioro, something the Tahitians eat for Sunday breakfast, a concoction of very finely grounded coconut (more finely grounded than when making coconut milk), mixed with lime or lemon, green onions, and pearl oyster muscle (whatever part of the pearl oyster is edible)…  The pearl farm gives the spent oyster ‘meat’ to the locals under one condition, that they use it for themselves, not try to profit from it by selling it to others.  Sounds like a good deal to me.  Locals, who agree, bring a bucket to the farm where it will be filled up for them.  
Pink to turquoise to green to blue hues
We notice the lack of gardens around here.  Fewer vegetables and fruits can be found than the Society or Marquesas Islands.  Our host, Gilbert, tells us he tried growing tomatoes, peppers, etc, even imported good soil but was confronted with continual attacks by insects that finally had something good to eat.  He would’ve had to resort to using too many chemicals to grow food and decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  However the vineyard on the other motu is working on receiving their organic label so there is a way to get this to work…

Another gingerbread pattern
We miss having fruits - - - hard to find in the Tuomatus.  At one store we saw oranges but when another customer asked about purchasing them, they were told they were reserved for someone else.  Other than fruit juices and coconut and at times bananas, we have not been able to find fruits here.  Thankfully we were still carrying some of the apples we bought in the Society Islands. 

Dive club gives tide charts in Fakarava, the neighboring atoll only 200 km from here yet they cannot figure out the tides here in Rangiroa…  Therefore the passes can be tricky.   

Benitier (small giant clam)
Sharks circling
Close-up of one smaller specimen
Mike watching - black tips are easy to spot
Fish eating discarded coconut
We take a speed boat to the blue lagoon on the only day we had nice weather.  It took us 40 minutes to do the 30 km to get there on the way out but 70 minutes on the way back.  Winds were still strong and the waters very choppy.  It was worth the trip and to get out of our room at the pension…  We also walked to Bird Island nearby.  Pictures tell more than words.
Black tern nesting
Baby showing its head  
White tern pair
Other tidbits:
  • We have yet to see anyone with dryers in all of our travels in French Polynesia.  Everything is dried outside on clothes lines.  It makes for stiff towels at every pension we’ve stayed at – just like home sweet home.
  • In the Tuomatus, they collect and drink rain water – not good for our consumption.  One has to purchase bottled water.
  • In most of French Polynesia, they import frozen French fries from Idaho….  Instead of cutting their own potatoes…
  • The first and last moons rather than being sideways ( or ) are more like a bowl right side up or upside down…
  • Who would have ever thought we’d be tired of poisson cru (raw fish) in any form: sashimi, sushi, carpaccio, etc. 
  • Who would have ever thought we’d be tired of baguettes, croissants, pains au chocolat, etc…  Give me oats, fruits or veggies – please.
  • In Marquesas and Societies we could have firi-firi (donuts) any day of the week, here only on Sundays…
Sharks and fish in about 5 meters of water
Coming closer to the surface - attracted by boaters who usually feed them
Splashing is starting to happen
Feeding frenzy is happening
Only one more atoll and we are back to Papeete for one night before heading to the Austral Islands where we heard they have 50 knot winds and the weather is truly wintery.   Yikes.

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