Sunday, June 29, 2014

Raiatea and Taha'a: an Interesting Pair of Islands

Unfortunately for Barb and Joe, we have had lousy weather. It is the first real gray and rainy stretch we have had in weeks. Without the sunshine, it is hard to see the reefs and the areas do turquoise water just aren't as brilliant in color. The sky has been cloudy, but it does yield brilliant sunsets at the end of the day.
Apparently there two weather systems in the area impacting us: one so north of Bora Bora and the other is south of Tahiti. We are in the trough between the two. There has been rain every day - several times a day - and a lot of gray clouds. The temperature is comfortable, but the winds have been the strongest we have seen since the passage to French Polynesia.

It has not stopped us, though. It was a fast sail from Moorea and it took its toll on Barb.The winds were 20-27 knots most of the way. Actually it was a great sail right on the rhumb line. It was so fast that we got to Raiatea too early and had to kill some time waiting for good light to enter the pass. That meant more bouncing around in the swells for Barb.

Once inside the Iriru Pass we anchored in Farrara Bay and took naps after the overnight passage. Like most of the bays here, it was tranquil with the exception of the strong wind whistling down the mountain. However, it was relatively calm. The sun was in and out alternating with rain showers.

We decided we were not going to melt in the rain, so we boarded to dinghy to head into the jungle via the Apoomua River. We had been told there was a lovely botanical garden there. At the rivers mouth we were greeted by a local man in a kayak. James then guided us about a mile up the river to the garden, where he then became our tour guide.

The ground was muddy and slick so our sandals were a mess, but the walk through the garden was well worth the clean up job. James told us all about the plants and how they use them for food and medicine. The jungle is overrun by philodendrons with leaves the size of a serving tray. It reminded me of the wild vines that kill our trees if they are not cut back.
The people use the flowers, leaves, fruits, bark and roots. There are many plant parts that are poisonous. It is obvious that experience has been their teacher and this information has been handed down for generations. He pick several flowers and leaves so we could smell them. The gardenia flower grows wild everywhere.

We saw the usual plants with their fruits: breadfruit, pamplemousse (grapefruit), limes, avocado, star fruit, mango, papaya, taro, coconuts, and a number of varieties of bananas. James was impressed that I was able to recognize and name all of these trees and fruits. There were a few new ones I had never seen and a tree with berries.
Of course, part of the deal is that you stop at his families fruit stand along the river bank on your way out. There they serve you fresh fruits on the plates woven from leaves and you buy some more to take with you. And you pay him for the tour. We have the program down so we went along with the hospitality even though it was pouring rain. And we had been in the rain for hours and we soak through and cold.

We learned that 27 families take care of and live off this garden. They are Mormon and we could see the temple in the distance. There were 11 children in his family and we met his mother and a sister at the fruit stand. There are three major religions on these islands: Catholic (their churches all have red roofs), Protestant and Mormon. These were the early missionaries to reach French Polynesia. There are also several others on some islands: Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah Witness. 

After a good night's sleep, we headed south toward the Teavamoa Pass to see the sacred religious area called Marae Taputapuatea. The Marae is the "father" of all other sacred sites in Polynesia. It is composed of several lithique structures made from blocks of coral taken from the sea by means of big fires lit during low tide. Canoes brought visitors through the pass for grand ceremonies. The ceremonies included human sacrifice including the immolation of children to appease Oro, the god of War! There was great secrecy around the Marae which dates back to the 17th century.

Unfortunately, our outboard motor was malfunctioning and Dennis was concerned that we might not be able to get back to the boat against the current. There were five of us in the dinghy so it was  impossible to row effectively. So we never made it to shore. We were disappointed. Photos show the usual arrangement of rocks defining the alter and specific areas as we have sen on other islands. But this was the most special Marae of all Polynesia.

We decided to motor through the lagoon to Taha'a and anchor in a bay near the Paipai Pass for an early morning exit to Bora Bora. We needed to get Barb and Joe there for their Saturday flight to Michigan. And we did not lower the dinghy to paddle ashore as there was not have time to explore Taha'a.

Taha'a is known as the Vanilla Island. The 4,500 inhabitants, mostly of authentic Maori race, are friendly. Taha'a produces about 80% of the world's vanilla! The interesting thing about vanilla -and what makes it so expensive - is that it must be hand pollinated. This is a very time consuming job. Also the beans grow on vines and can hang high in the trees. The roads are very rugged and there is no air strip here so it remains isolated.

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