First of all, I have been palling around with Amanda, the daughter of our friends on Sara Jean II, who flew in to visit her parents. What a difference having a friend my age to hang out with makes! Yesterday we made friends with the people who work at the "Guest House" and the dive shop in the village (population 12). Serge- an old Polynesian surfer- told us to be at the restaurant if we wanted to go surf in the morning, which of course I was stoked on.
This morning Amanda and I arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 A.M. where we met Serge who said the waves would be bad because the tradewinds are blowing today. I was a bit disappointed (and a bit relieved, I'll admit) but we decided to hang out and have a cup of coffee. The deck of the restaurant hangs over a coral reef that is covered with sharks, and drops off into the deep blue of the pass where we watched sharks and manta rays swim around.
Not long after, Silas and William, two young guys who we met the previous day, wanted to take us out to look at the waves in their sketchy little Boston Whaler dinghy. After coffee we all jumped in the whaler (nearly sinking it) and headed out. After cruising around in the chop and making sure that the waves were not surfable, we went back inside the lagoon and they took us to a motu (island) on the other side of the pass with light pink, coral sand.
After we beached the dinghy William scrambled up a 25 foot coconut palm and, standing on the fronds, picked coconuts and threw them down to Silas, who smashed them open on a sharp stick and served Amanda and me fresh young coconut water. After eating and drinking our fill of various stages of coconut, we headed out to walk over to a small sand motu- really just a mound of sand in the lagoon (think postcard). Walking from motu to motu is not as easy as it might look. The sand has sharp coral pieces in it and there were sea cucumbers everywhere. The guys insisted on carrying us on their shoulders, and of course Amanda and I were laughing hysterically the whole time. Once we got to the motu we took a bunch of pictures (the guys really wanted the prom-esque poses), went for a swim, and played "football" with a coconut. I have huge scratches where I was tackled in the sand, but it was all in good fun.
After we got tired of the fun and games we returned to the village where we drank a coca-cola and relaxed in the shade for a bit. Then William wanted to take us to the "Bird Motu" (Silas had to work). We cruised northward up the lagoon and came to a motu that had tons of birds in the trees. William ran into his friend Tama, who is camping on the motus and fishing. He invited us to go fishing with him and then have a barbecue, but not before rolling up a cigarette with a palm frond filled with some Tuamotu shwag.
Tama and William set out a net across a little waterway and threw rocks up-current to chase the fish into the net. In no time they had caught 10 little parrot-looking fish. William dug a pit and made a fire, then covered it with coral rocks to make a kind of smoke oven, while Tama cleaned the fish. Tama made his version of poisson cru, which was really just the raw fresh fish mixed with a little water straight from the lagoon. It was a kind of hard to eat. The fish that was cooked/smoked on the coral rocks over the fire was then cleaned in the salt water, and then eaten by us. I am not sure I have ever had more tasty fish in my life. Tre delicious. Tama told us this is how his grandfather cooked his fish, as I am sure hundreds of generations before him did as well. After a great meal and a nice rest in the shade, William dropped Amanda and me off at our respective boats, but not before making plans to play music together at the restaurant tonight.
After a nice dinner on Sara Jean (more fish!) Amanda and I were picked up by William and Silas, this time in one of the big tourist speed boats, and took us back to the restaurant where a few tourists and the Guest House workers were hanging out drinking beers and playing music. I brought my ukulele and had a great time jamming with them. They were very impressed by the fact that a girl can play an instrument, and were blown away by my pathetic lead guitar. We all had a great time singing "La Bamba", "Hotel California", and Bob Marley songs together.
All day Amanda and I had been using broken English, even more broken French, and lots of hand signals to communicate. Orama, the young woman who essentially runs the guest house, speaks English very well and I talked with her a lot. She acted as translator between everybody all night, giving the guys endless shit about how bad their English is. She was very sweet and patient with my French (which has gone from non-existent to very bad, which I think is an improvement). At one point she got very serious and said, "The boys want to give you a gift." I am thinking... uh oh... and then she said, "This is very serious. They found beautiful shells for you, BUT, it is forbidden to take them from the reef. They take them for you anyway." I said, "Oh no! That is awful, they should leave the reef intact!" She frowned and said, "No, no, it is very special. Everybody does it anyway."
That's when I realized that one of the reasons that this place is so amazing is because of how pristine it is; how underdeveloped it is; how remote and off the beaten track it is. The scary thing is that I do not know how much longer it will last. I have heard that the diving in Tahiti and Moorea is terrible now because all the reefs have been killed off due to industrialization and being overrun with tourism. Are the Tuamotus next?
I hoped not, as I looked around quaint little restaurant with its thatched walls, a warm breeze and cheerful music flowing through the room, and the smiling faces of my new friends who, by the end of the night were telling me, "Je t'aime."
At 5/22/2011 7:51 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°30.38'S 145°27.33'W
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