Monday, March 2, 2015

Life in the Tropical Climes of Huahine

At 6am, Mark’s internal clock wakes him up. Starting work early has three advantages: the cooler temperature still allows a decent level of concentration, office hours in the US and Europe are way ahead, and he doesn’t have me around to distract him. An hour or so later, I join him at the table to do some work on the computer as well, after having a look outside to appreciate the beautiful surroundings. Mid-morning, we have a small breakfast and then, it is back to our computers, or we do boat chores or run shore errands. It is already very hot and nothing can be done without sweat streaming down our faces, whether we are inside the boat or outside in the cockpit or on land.

After a late lunch, we feel lazy, but napping is not our thing, so we try to read, write emails or relax a bit, before it is shower time. We jump in the ocean around 4pm, when it is still hot enough to enjoy our “bath” and our towel has time left to dry outside. Sometimes we swim to the beach and back for some exercise, or, on a cloudy day, we go for a little walk to collect fruit. At 5pm the day is mostly done and we have a glass of yummy juice with a little snack, while we prepare and cook an early dinner. By 7pm, we are in bed. It is dark – the relentless sun finally gone - and we enjoy a TV show or a movie on the laptop. Mosquito netting keeps the buzzing creatures out. 9pm is bed time, and after a night with many interruptions because of rain, wind gusts, visiting cargo ships, noise on shore or waking up in sweat, the cycle starts over again.

Fridays are different. Mark drops me off in the town of Fare, where I try to sell some unneeded household items and make a bit of money for the evening happy hour at the Yacht Club - the happening place in French Polynesia. Sometimes, we grab a bite to eat as well, or we meet new friends, like last Friday, when Melissa and Scott invited us over for a fun evening on their boat Kaimana. Our last bottle of Tequila was put to good use, something we “regretted” the following day!

During this monotonous life in the tropics, we are surprised and inspired by the “special events” that occur once in a while. On the evening of Mardi Gras, our friends Marie and JP invited us over for traditional French crêpes on their boat Domino, and Chinese New Year was celebrated with fireworks in Fare – something that was absent here on December 31st.

One morning, I rented a bike and pedaled up to the marae of Maeva. This time, I followed a hiking trail up a hill to see some different ruins. It was a pleasant walk, mostly in the shade, but the humidity was high in the jungle. To cool off, I biked to the edge of motu Ovarei and snorkeled the coral garden, which held some pretty surprises. The ride back at noon was brutal without any shade, but at home, more refreshing salt water awaited!

On the weekend, we moved Irie back to Avea Bay, to celebrate Mark’s birthday and to prepare for our sail back to Tahiti.
Va'a in Fare

Marie off MV Domino, making yummy crepes

Marie and JP on MV Domino, their impressive, self-built motor yacht

MV Domino in Fare's mooring field

Va'a at dusk with Raiatea in the distance

Loads of coconut husks, after the coconuts are taken out to export as/for copra

View from motu Ovarei towards the mainland of Huahine

Marae Manunu on the motu

Windward coast along motu Ovarei

Hot and sweaty ride back to town along the airport

Local vendors pass the time playing ukuleles

The water off Fare (and Huahine) looks beautiful

Snorkel time, off motu Ovarei

Orange-finned anemone fish brushing against an anemone

Sixbar wrasses on the reef

Passage ways through the coral reefs

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Living Afloat in Huahine

It feels as if Mark and I are living in Fare, Huahine, these days. We have become used to the island pace and the Polynesian way of life. We go to the hardware store on a Saturday morning and are not surprised to find it closed. We take our jerry cans to the fuel station, never expecting to be helped the first time around. Once, they were out of gasoline on day one, and a month later, the station was already closed at 11am. A second attempt, usually has us carry full jugs home. As Mark states: “Whatever we want to do, count on about 50% of it working out.” And, he is right when it comes to local matters, like a store or food van being open, fresh fish being for sale, coco glacé (coconuts on ice to drink the deliciously refreshing coco water inside - $1 a piece!) vendors being present, a planned event, a given direction, a previously reliable internet connection actually working, and so on. When it comes to boat parts or other pieces we need, to fix or maintain the boat, the percentage of finding something on tiny Huahine drops to zero.

Eggplant gnocchi with boat grown spinach
Every day, fresh baguettes await in the one grocery store, where a variety of produce is sadly lacking. We have the habit of walking the refrigeration aisle, just in case there is more to be found than the usual eggplants, cabbage and carrots. So far, we have no luck. We haven’t eaten a tomato or lettuce in weeks, or other dinner veggies in months, and even cucumbers are becoming sparse. We manage OK, though, and our creativity with meals is still existent. Having a constant supply of basil and sprouts helps. One thing we (I) can’t get used to in French Polynesia is the early time everyone rises. People get out of bed around 4am and start the day before 5! Most stores open at 6:30am. It makes sense, since the early hours are the coolest. Mark is also most productive before 7am, but I still have a hard time waking up with the sun.

On Irie, we have the unwritten rule that whatever we haven’t used for a year (or two) – except for parts and tools – needs to get off the boat. Having quite a few things that belong in this category, we looked forward to a planned flea market in Fare last week. When the event was canceled, we decided to take a tub of stuff to shore anyway and set up shop next to the vegetable sellers. As “new providers” we were the hit of town, and gear unavailable on the island went quick. Mark and I made enough money for lunch at a roulotte and happy hour that day, and for a Valentine’s dinner at the Yacht Club on Saturday!

As we set about our daily routines, we enjoy being comfortable on one of the free mooring balls in Fare’s multi-hued lagoon. The view of the surrounding reefs, islands, beach and water is pretty and the wind has recently been helping us out with electricity and keeping the temperature bearable. Thanks to our friends Rachelle and Patrick on SV Namaste (now in the Marquesas), who told us where to find abandoned fruit trees, we go “shopping” in nature for avocados, grapefruit, limes and bananas. The gusty wind had knocked over some plants and branches to make the pickings easy!

Since the sun gave us a break yesterday, we braved the 120% humidity and swarms of mosquitoes to go on a walk in the jungle. Besides getting some exercise and feeling as if we were the only people on the island, we enjoyed exploring the remote interior to the sounds of birds and a rushing river. The lush foliage of the tropics and the beautiful flowers of Polynesia never cease to impress me. We even found some hot pepper bushes to spice up our meals. Huahine, as most of the fertile islands of French Polynesia, truly is a piece of paradise to visit or live in and its abundance of natural wealth and beauty is a fact. The locals realize this and love their island. And we do, too!

Leaving civilization to head into Huahine's interior

Little waterfall along the river

Following the river into the jungle

Narrow trail into the foliage

Colorful flowers along the way

Easy avocado pickings

Tiare flower bush

Tiare Tahiti

Valentine's dinner: tuna carpaccio for me and fish burger for Mark

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Huahine’s Best Kept Secret

When Mark and I were driving south to Avea Bay with Irie a few weeks ago, we spotted a pretty looking beach to port. Apart from a local boat dragged upon the white sand, the area was deserted. Three new mooring balls had been placed in front of the beach, clear of the shallowest coral patches. We poked our nose in to check it out, liked what we saw, and agreed to stop here on the way back north to Fare. The bay would be a good weekend destination, since WiFi was not available, but we could still grab emails over a slow 2G connection (thanks to our Wiriepro :-)).

So, last weekend, we motored up to this special place. Irie was the only boat to pick up a mooring and onshore, a local family was hanging out on the beach and having fun in the shallow water. It didn’t take long before we donned our snorkel gear and jumped into the refreshing, turquoise water. We explored some of the reefs, where – despite the poor visibility – we could make out some interesting fish and creatures. The closer to the beach, the warmer the water, and most of the way, it felt as if we were swimming in a bath tub. Not as refreshing as expected! On the beach, we met Siki, the caretaker of this government owned property. He told us many stories, "animatedly" drawing numbers in the sand to explain something further. For the rest of the afternoon, I practiced my French and Mark learned a thing of two, being immersed in the language. One of the other beach visitors happened to be a Frenchman who gave us a ride back to Haapu a couple of weeks ago. Huahine is a small island!

That night, we saw the sun set and the moon rise to the chatter of birds in the jungle-like vegetation onshore. Later on, there wasn’t a sound and the sea was flat. We couldn’t even hear the breaking reefs, since the ocean swell had been minimal. No wind means no waves… It also means that it is incredibly hot, inside as well as outside. The peace was complete in this little piece of heaven. No locals playing music on the beach, no smoking fires, no commotion or traffic noise. When we went to bed, I even turned off our little bathroom fan and hid the loud ticking clock of our bedroom. Total silence and nobody around; this is one of the main reasons to live on a boat!

The second day of our stay, we took the dinghy to shore before 8am, to go for a hike before the sun was out in force. It was already incredibly hot, but we hoped for some shade on the trail. Siki arrived with his va’a (outrigger canoe), loaded with bags of coconuts. He had been collecting them since 4:30am. It was one of his jobs and a cargo ship was due to arrive the same day to transport the coconuts to Tahiti. He showed us how to reach the viewpoint close by and explained a thing or two about the resort that used to occupy this slice of paradise. A cyclone had wiped it out in the nineties and some remnants were still visible. The view from the top of the rock was pretty nice!

Afterwards, Siki lead us over an overgrown path, hacking away with his machete, to a dirt road. We followed it, meeting locals along the way, and took in more views of Bourayne Bay. He was taking us to a wild patch of pumpkins, but once we arrived, none were to be found. The track was being widened and the pumpkin patches diminished. We caught up with the main road around Huahine Iti, before turning back and taking a different trail to the beach. It is possible to get here overland, but the path is hard to find. The only other way to reach this nice stretch of beach is by boat. Right before returning to the bay, Siki hacked down an enormous stack of bananas and carried it to our dinghy. Mark and I rinsed the stack in the salty lagoon to get rid of any critters (and saw a massive spider run away over the water) before loading the dinghy up. We were also given some papayas.

Uru (breadfruit)
Later that day, we brought some stuff to shore to give to Siki. He promised to swing by in his va’a the following morning with an uru (breadfruit), knocked two young coconuts out of a tree for us, and handed me a bracelet he made earlier. Sure enough, after we woke up and got started with some work the next morning, we heard someone call “ia orana!” Siki’s head popped up and he off loaded his canoe, dunking everything in salt water first: breadfruit, pamplemousses, limes, and a massive soursop. We couldn’t thank him enough (mauruuru, mauruuru, mauruuru!) and promised to return in the future. With a boat full of fresh fruit, but nothing else to eat, we headed back to Fare, Huahine’s only “city” and supermarket.

Irie moored at Hana Iti beach

Siki transporting bags of collected coconuts on his va'a

One more climb to get to the top of the rock for a nice view

Bourayne Bay, cutting Huahine in half

Papaya trees are everywhere on Huahine!

Siki trying to find a pumpkin for us

Can you believe this bamboo is only a few years old?

Siki handing Mark an enormous stack of bananas

Going home with what is easily the biggest stack of bananas we were ever given!
Spotted boxfish (male)

Humongous sea cucumber with his mouth open

Pretty patch of coral

Yellow boxfish (young adult) hiding

Yellow boxfish checking me out

Massive soursop (courasol)

Free bananas on Irie!