Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Huahine – Exploring Fare town and the roads beyond

[Kyle]After a day of recovering from our psychic wounds caused by what appears to be our poor life choices, we spent a couple of days ashore in Huahine.

The first was not much to talk about. We went ashore to get the lay of the main village of Fare. We did the requisite topping up of provisions in their surprisingly enormous store and had a giant lunch at a nearby snack, which is what they call their inexpensive outdoor restaurants. They are one step up from a food truck, but for some reason are generally also less expensive.

We did two more laps of the town for thoroughness and headed a little out of its limits to see what we could find and happened upon a distillery that was closing in five minutes. We popped in and were greeted by a lovely and effusive man who seemed to be bothered not the slightest that we had arrived just then or that we couldn’t make out 80% of his rapid-fire French. He poured us a long series of heavenly liqueurs, all of his creation and all flavored from different local fruits. He did this all without any hint of any sales pressure. He seemed to be glad for the company and to show off what he had created. He didn’t have to do any more than that. His stuff spoke for itself and there was no way we were leaving without some to take away. We ended up with a bottle of dried banana flavor and one of wild mandarin. It more than blew what we had saved on lunch, but it was totally worth it.

Downtown Fare, the Distillery and the fancy Hotel Lapita Lodge

We headed out the other side of the village to the Lapita Lodge. We could not afford the tip on someone else’s drink there, but they have an excellent museum, which they were happy to let us peruse at length as long as we didn’t draw attention to the fact that we weren’t actually guests. We tried our best, but I’m not really comfortable treating service staff with disdain, so we elected instead to keep a really low profile. We exited via a walk through their beautiful restaurant to their private beach. We enjoyed the views and then walked back to the village on the regular old beach with the plebs. It was also beautiful, so no hardship there.

We were trying to kill time until the Huahine Yacht Club’s Happy Hour, but the sky opened up and looked to be staying that way for the duration. We gave up and opted for a wet dinghy ride home, where we could change into some dry clothes. As we did, we saw a lot of miserable-looking people in dinghies going the other way while hiding behind ineffective umbrellas. People do love Happy Hour.

The following morning, the rain had just stopped when we arrived ashore to collect our rented scooter for the day. This would allow us to do every tourist thing on Maryanne’s list, which was everything.

We started with a trip to Maeva, where they have another big museum and a very large archaeological site. Huahine has the largest number and best preserved archaeological sites in Polynesia so there was a lot of interesting stuff to see.

Museum and Fish Traps

We then had a look at a stone fish trap system that has been used for centuries and is still feeding people today. Following that, we took a hike up the nearby hill to a couple of other big sites to check them out. Along the way, we met a man who gave us a tip about a side spur of the trail that looked like nothing on the map. We took it on his advice and were rewarded with a giant marae platform overlooking the whole western side of the island!

Hike a hill for history and the view

Fun on the scooter

Sacred Eels (with blue eyes)

Next, we rode the scooter to the site of the so-called Sacred Eels. (Mom, you may want to make sure you’re sitting down for this one). These are giant (1-2m) eels that are apparently pretty docile. The thing to do is feed them so they will all crowd around you and be adorable. ‘Adorable as an Eel’ is not a phrase I’m familiar with, but what the hell…

We had brought along a can of mackerel just for this purpose. Well, Maryanne did. I let her bring it because I was afraid if I didn’t, she would try to feed it to me some day. When we got there, we found a couple of hopeful-looking ladies at a stand that sold a variety of foods and decided to buy another can of mackerel from them so as not to cut them out.

From that point on, what we’d read about the eel process was way off. It was better – so much better!

We collected our newly purchased can of fish and the woman who sold it to us came out from behind the counter and told us where to go with it. There were a bunch of small kids playing in the shallow river, mostly girls aged 6-8 or so. When they saw our rusty can of mackerel, they all whooped with joy and excitement like we had just arrived with a whole big sack full of Christmas presents for them.

With wide eyes and big smiles, they commandeered our can, grabbed our hands and showed us to the spot in the river where the eels like to hide under a crack in the wall. Then they went about “showing” us how to feed them. First, drain some of the liquid into the water to make it smell of fish. This started an eelpede, which is like a stampede, only with eels. A dozen or so of them, each a little bigger than an adult’s arm (a long one), slithered and writhed over each other as they vied for a spot at the front. Then the kids plunged their hands into the can and started pulling out bits of fish meat and giving them to the eels. This started a whole new wave of girly screams and giggling and rapid-fire French every time one surprised them from behind or brushed up against a leg. Then the kids started showing us tricks: Take some meat, put it on a little shelf out of the water, splash some river water onto the wall so it runs over the meat into the water, and the eels will lift themselves out of the water to get to it.

Watching the eels go crazy was entertaining, but not nearly as much as watching these adorable children act like it was the very best day they have ever had in their whole lives. When our can of mackerel was exhausted, Maryanne mentioned that we had another in our bag and the kids went NUTS! What?! Two Christmases in one day?! They dove en masse for our bag and started tugging at zippers. We were worried the contents were going to go in the river, so Maryanne convinced them to wait for me. I was surrounded by a jiggling mob whose faces were beaming with anticipation. When my hand finally emerged bearing the red-labeled can and held it high, it was as if it beamed with its own light. I released my grip and a basketball-style jump shot awarded it to the swiftest of them. They jumped back into the river and were dismayed when no fishy juices came out of the upturned can. They looked to me and found me sanguinely smiling at them and holding up a can opener in my right hand.

Up until that moment, I would have characterized myself as THE last person who would enjoy being tackled by a bunch of dripping children. That’s probably still true, but there’s an exception to every rule, right? I could not have had more fun watching them have so much fun, all for the price of two cans of fish.

We still had a few hours before we had to turn in the scooter, so we made a point of riding every road on both Huahine Nui and Huahini Iti. On the bridge connecting the two, we stopped to watch a bunch of teenagers make the 15m leap to the water below -a way to cool off and impress the girls, which wasn’t easy because they were jumping more often than the boys.

The abandoned Sofitel Hotel
We had planned for some snorkelling, but it was a bit chilly

After returning to Fare to turn in our scooter, we were wandering around in the direction of the roulettes (food trucks) when we heard the beating of drums. We decided to skip the food and follow the music. After a five-minute walk, we found what we were expecting to be a group practicing, but turned out to be the Huahine Heiva! For 200 francs ($2) each, we bought tickets and were given floor seats in the first ten rows, which was all of them.

Heiva Festival dancing

Even though the dancing wasn’t quite as polished, I liked this Heiva even better than the one in Tahiti. We were right up at the edge of the dance floor and there were no rules against walking around and taking pictures. Since most of the crowd and the dancers knew each other, it had the feeling of a big family reunion.

Afterward, we did finally make it to the yacht club’s Happy Hour, where we were able to bust in on the biggest, loudest group and spend the next few hours yarning.

We still hadn’t managed to eat, so we headed back to the roulottes and found one with a very busy guy making pizzas. We put in our order and were told to come back in an hour. Come back from where? Everything’s closed. I used the time to get the dinghy ready and Maryanne had a chat with him while he worked at full speed. She confirmed that it would not have been possible for us to get our pizza even a minute sooner. We were really hungry, but it was still too hot to eat when we got it back to the boat.

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