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tahaa ~ vanilla & black pearls

Posted by on February 6, 2014

August 7 – 10, 2013

We began our playtime in the Raiatea and Tahaa areas by sailing around to the northwest side of Tahaa (also known as the Vanilla Island) in search of some coral gardens. We never found the gardens, but we found some of the most gorgeous water we’d ever seen.

so flexible!

a beautiful church at the water's edge in Tahaa

luxury resorts on the water

Bora Bora from our Tahaa anchorage

swinging on the genaker halyard

By the time we dropped the hook near what we thought were the coral gardens, the wind had kicked up, and we needed to find a more sheltered anchorage. However, since the genaker halyard was free for a few days, we found some time for a quick round of fun first.

so graceful

a sudden stop on the forestay . . . that one left a bruise!

seeing if he can still swing over

and he still has it!

up and over

and he cleared the side!

going, going, going . . .

and she cleared the side!

amazingly clear water!

a beautiful smile with Bora Bora in the background

As the afternoon drew to a close, and the wind picked up, we hoisted the anchor and moved over to Baie de Tapuamu to be protected by the hills of Tahaa. Little did we know! Apparently, Tahaa has a reputation for wind tunneling between the mountain peaks, as well as extremely deep anchorages. First, it was difficult to find a spot due to the water depth and coral heads. However, we were able to pull up to a 3 meter patch, drop the anchor, and drop back to float in about a 20 meters of water. Even though we were in the lee of the shore, the wind howled down upon us in the tiny anchorage. Regardless of the wind, fun was still to be had. We were in good company with s/v Pacific Flyer and s/v Monkey Fist. We enjoyed sundowners aboard s/v Monkey Fist as we watched vacationing bareboat charter people struggle with the unfamiliar wind conditions.

The next day, while we waited for s/v Flour Girl to join us, we went ashore for a little exploring. We tied the dinghy up near Village Tapuamu, and before beginning our walk, we asked a local water taxi driver what he says when he greets someone. “La ora na” was his proud response.

Throughout the rest of French Polynesia, French is a widely used and accepted language. However, in the area of the Society Islands, historically, the Polynesians were more rebellious towards the European French, and therefore the Polynesians have hung onto their traditional Tahitian language. We had been told it was more repectful to use Tahitian when speaking to Polynesians in the Society Island area. With the new words on our tongues, we continued with our walk, speaking the proper greeting to anyone we passed along the way.

As we walked along the village’s main street, a little, old woman invited us into her shop to see her handcrafted jewelry. There were beautiful necklaces, bracelets, and hair pins made of Mother of Pearl, shells, beans, and seeds. With gifts in mind, we made a small purchase, and then resumed our walk.

vanilla is a species of orchid

We found a dirt road that went up the hill toward a vanilla bean farm. We’d been told that vanilla bean farmers tended to guard their crops with weapons, but as long as we stayed on the road we’d be fine.

From past experiences in French Polynesia, we’d learned that if you stop and talk to locals, and ask questions about life in their country, they are very eager to share with you. Therefore, we were hoping to find some fruit farms, and by talking to people we might be able to acquire some fruit, either for trade or as a gift. Sure enough, we were in luck!

We’d asked someone where we could find bananas, and we were directed up the hill. By the time we had hiked only halfway up the hill, we were huffing and puffing, and wondering where we were going to find bananas. We, and especially the kids, were getting tired and hungry. Just when we were about to turn around, we came across two guys by the side of the trail. These vanilla farm workers were just starting their lunch break, and without hesitation, they offered a couple of oranges for the kids. We gladly accepted, and Wil began asking questions about the vanilla plants.

Vanilla is a species of orchid, and every vanilla flower is hand-pollinated with care to ensure the production of a vanilla bean. Farming vanilla beans is labor-intensive, therefore, the price of vanilla beans are at a premium. We were quite excited when the farmers gave use two vanilla beans to take home with us. The fresh vanilla beans smelled so very good!

vanilla farm on Tahaa

vanilla beans from a Tahaa vanilla farm

After talking with the guys for awhile, we asked them where we could find bananas. They told us to continue our walk to the top of the hill. They would have a stalk of bananas waiting for us on our way back down. When we returned, and to our surprise, in addition to a stalk of bananas, there was also a soursop and two papayas. I offered what little bit of money I had in my pocket for the fruit, but the farmers declined. We thanked them over and over for their generosity, and then bid them farewell.
[Note: For those of you on boats with electric macerators on your toilets, DO NOT swallow soursop seeds (or any seeds, for that matter). Thank goodness we were warned before any seeds were swallowed. They are extremely hard, will get stuck, and you will have to dismantle your macerator to remove them.]

excited about the soursop, bananas, vanilla beans, and papaya we received

Shortly after our return to our boat, s/v Flour Girl arrived, and once they were settled in the anchorage, we joined them for our usual sundowners. Flour Girl had gone from Port Phaeton to Moorea to Huahini, so we had not seen them since Port Phaeton.

The following day, along with Flour Girl, we moved to Baie Apu on the southwestern side of Tahaa. The Champon Pearl Farm offers free instructive tours by appointment, as well as free moorings to their customers, so it sounded like a win-win situation to us. Once we found the pearl farm, we discovered that the next available appointment would be first thing in the morning.

In the meantime, since we suddenly had an afternoon available, we left Colin to play with Zack on Flour Girl, and we did a quick sail back to Raiatea to pick up our repaired genaker. (We are still amazed at the cost and efficiency of the repair!) Once we had our sail in hand, we returned to Baie Apu and picked up the free mooring for the night.

Early the next morning, we went ashore for our pearl farm tour. A woman gave us a brief demonstration in the oyster shed on how to seed an oyster in order to make a pearl. Then, she returned us to the jewelry room where she showed us the different qualilties of black pearls. It was at this point we realized we were slightly obligated to buy something. The pearls were absolutely beautiful, but way out of our budget. However, I did manage to find a special treat for myself. My wrist now wears a very simple, but elegant bracelet containing a string of natural and unseeded black pearls.

admiring the black pearls

example of good quality black pearls

polished oyster shells and pearl bracelets

After we made our purchases, and were getting ready to leave, the woman asked when we would be leaving the moorings. She said they needed the moorings for other boats. We suddenly felt very put off. We’d just spent over $20,000 CFP (~$200 USD), and I know Flour Girl spent more than that. Now, we were being asked to leave their mooring which was available for their customers. We had just proven ourselves to be customers, but we now realized that our purchases were very minor compared to their normal transactions. C’est la vie!

a small boutique on Tahaa

intricate weaving of a Polynesia roof

We departed the pearl farm and quickly returned to our boats. Since we now needed to find a new anchorage, we decided to drop the moorings and make the short hop straight to Bora Bora. We had our repaired genaker, some fresh fruit and vanilla beans, and some black pearls. We were free to move on and see what else we could find.

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