June 28, 2013
The village of Tearavero is situated in the northeast corner of the Kauehi atoll, about 8 miles from our southeast anchorage. We had heard that black pearls were available in town, so we made a plan to find pearls and put it into motion.
There is a single track road that runs from town to the south end of the atoll where we were anchored. Since it was at least an 8-mile trek to town, we decided to dinghy halfway and then walk the remaining distance. Many of the kids desperately needed to get schoolwork done, so they all stayed back at the boats while most of the adults went to town. Since we have a 25-hp engine, our dinghy was the taxi for the day. However, the engine began acting up on the way there, and we had to pull over after only 2 or 3 miles.
Leaving the dinghy at what appeared to be an abandoned pearl farm, we began the walking portion of our trip. We’d probably walked for about an hour before a pearl farm truck offered to give us a ride. It was a flatbed truck loaded with a pile of pearl farm buoys. While Maina (s/v Voyageur) and I rode in the cab with the driver, the rest of our group sat amidst the buoys in the back of the truck. Once we saw how much further we had to go in order to get to town, we were quite thankful for the ride.
The pearl farmers dropped us off in town, and told us they’d come back for us in about an hour. We were able to walk from one end of the village to the other in a matter of minutes. There’s literally a church, a store, and a handful of homes. Along the way, we bumped into s/v Yindee Plus who was about to start working their way back to their dinghy, also a long way from town. We convinced them to stick with us for a ride back.
Eventually, we made our way to the only store in town, a small grocery run by the mayor’s wife. Imagine that you have gone into a small convenient store that’s going out of business, and it’s in the 90%-off-all-items-remaining stage. That would pretty much describe what’s on the shelves in this store. There was no fresh produce, no milk, no butter, no flour, no meats, etc. There were a few bags of pasta and rice, some canned coffee, Kit-Kat candy bars, and a few choice sodas. There were a dozen eggs priced for 9.50 CFP (over $10 US). We only discovered “fresh baguettes” after Nathalie (s/v Sueño) sweet-talked the mayor’s wife. The baguettes were flown in from Tahiti on the weekly supply plane.
If anyone wants to see the black pearls for sale, they have to make an appointment with the mayor, and the mayor’s wife will set it up for you. However, on that day, the town was preparing for the arrival of the supply plane. Instead, for 5 CFP per person, she arranged for us to be picked up by a flatbed truck and carried to the airport for vanilla coffee and sandwiches, and then we would be given a ride back to the boats. The pearls would have to wait for another day.
On the way to the airport, we were taken by a pearl farm where a local farmer talked to us about how they farm the pearls. The oysters are flat, like large scallops, and they are about twice the size of east coast US oysters. He sacrificed a few oysters for us to sample. We ate them raw, of course! Although, we were surprised to find out that they only eat the muscle and not the large body of the animal. Once the oysters can no longer be used, their shells are sent to Japan where they make Mother of Pearl buttons. The whole time we kept saying that we wished we had our kids with us, so before leaving the pearl farm, they let us pick out some oyster shells to take home to our kids.
The next stop was the airport. When we arrived, the one-building terminal was practically empty, except for the mayor’s wife who was now working the concession counter for anyone who would be showing up for the plane. She prepared the vanilla coffee and sandwiches for us. The coffee, which was quite good, was served in small teacups with saucers.
After the lovely coffee and food at the airport, we thought we were being returned to the store in town. However, the truck driver (who I think was the mayor’s nephew) stopped by the coconut farm where he worked. At the coconut farm, we were shown how they collect and open the coconuts. Once the coconuts were opened, they showed us two methods for collecting the meat. The manual method was done by straddling a bench with a specially made saw-toothed blade that’s shaped like a flatten spoon. With a bowl underneath, the farmer scrapes the meat out until the coconut is empty. A few people in our group gave it a try. The electric method was much faster. Picture a cone shaped wood rasp about two inches in diameter. This rasp sits inside sort of a sideways sitting metal bowl. Again, with a bowl placed underneath to catch the coconut meat, a person presses a coconut half against the rasp while it spins at an extremely fast rpm. One slip and someone could lose a finger! We were given several coconuts to take home with us.
The ride back to the southern end of the island was memorable within itself. As we all sat with our backs against the low edge of the flatbed truck, and bounced along the single lane dirt road, palm fronds would occasionally smack us as we drove past. We dropped Yindee Plus at their dinghy, and then Wil and David (s/v Sueño) off at our dinghy. The truck drove the rest of us all the way to the anchorage.
It had been a spectacular day. We had learned a lot about life on Kauehi, and again, we’d gotten to see just how kind and generous the people of French Polynesia are. We returned to the boats and brought the kids ashore for some run-around time. We enjoyed snacks and drinks on the beach as we watched the sun go down.