Thursday, July 20, 2017

Exploring Raiatea

[Kyle]After the previous day’s snorkeling, we decided to relocate to Hotopuu Bay on Raiatea to be near the Taputapuatea (Tahua-Marae) archaeological site, reputed to be the most important in French Polynesia. The bay had two depths, way too deep, and way too shallow. We opted for way too deep and put everything out. Fortunately the anchorage was suspiciously un-crowded.

We rowed ashore and hauled the Portland Pudgy out at the canoe club much to the amusement of a few local children who gathered to shyly watch and giggle at us. Maryanne warmed them to us with some of her French, which eventually had them calling out to us in English as we began the walk to the site.

The walk was short, and flat, but the weather was warm. We were on the look out for a store (possibly to find bread?) but were not hopeful. As we rounded the corner of the point we spotted the signs outside the grounds of the site.

The Taputapuatea Historical site has several large Marae (huge stone plazas backed by a raised platform and adorned with occasional carvings etc). There was also an archery ground (although we would not have known it as such except from the map). The large site is situated right inside and in line with Teavamoa pass, the various texts indicated that the site held huge importance for Polynesians from as far as New Zealand and Hawaii and would be regularly visited by these great sea fearers of the past.

Taputapuatea Historical Site - Most important site in French Polynesia

We sat in the shade of a large tree for our picnic of granola bars, and a local tour guide with her own group of tourists offered us sandwiches and fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste – we were very obliging.

Fed, rested and newly cultured, we decided to continue on to the next village of Opoa still on the look out for a store. One of the first things Maryanne spotted was an older guy busily processing coconuts in his back yard. We were aware our own coconut skills were a little on the slow side and Maryanne was keen that we get tips from an obvious expert so she tottered on over and asked if it would be OK for us all to observe. He seemed quite happy to show off his technique and he was soon chatting away in French at full speed leaving us just (hopefully) agreeing in the right places. It turns out his procedure (that we later saw others use) was no good for us, as it sacrifices the coconut water that we so enjoy. The ‘expert’ way is to break the whole coconut in half (outer husk and all) with the use of a giant axe, and then (once the pile of halves is big enough) swap to scooping out the meat with a purposely bent knife/tool – making a pile of coconut meat ready for the drying phase.

We left him and shortly spotted a ‘Snack’ store sign. ‘Snacks’ in French Polynesia are sometimes stores selling chips/crisps and soft drinks, and sometimes fast food café type places. Either way we were excited. However, as we approached it was clear the place was closed, and quite possibly had been for years. Out back we could see bananas hanging in the doorway, so Maryanne popped her head in and surprised a couple of kids in what was obviously a home (and not the extended store Maryanne had expected). Oops. She explained herself away saying we were looking for a store to buy some bananas and the kid just looked confused and shook his head. We left apologetically. Within a minute, Mom appeared at the door and called us back. She explained that there was no store, but gifted us some of her bananas anyway. Powerless against the Polynesian generosity – we all left nibbling away at these sweet delicacies.

We saw a church (and Maryanne likes a church like I like a hill), so even though locals were clearly painting and renovating it, we took a look inside and found a basic design filled with simple wooden bench pews, and tall stained glass windows protecting it from the intrusion of rain.

Coconut lessons from a pro - and beers to recover from the walk

On the way back, Sarah spotted an derelict looking sign for a hotel that pointed down a rather moss covered and overgrown road – so we followed it just in case and found the Hotel Atiapiti, a beautiful place where we stopped for a cold beer and enjoyed the turquoise waters and free wifi. We eventually returned to the boat, but the thoughts of enjoying a cockpit sunset were soon dashed by heavy rain. Oh well, not a bad day overall.

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