Tuesday, June 21, 2011

South Pacific Expedition - Houhine

Arriving in Houhine we employed our newly found coral reef navigation skills and learned it definitely helps to have a bow lookout who has polarized glasses (to see the color change in the water according to depth).  The next morning, Annika, Pehr, Verne, and Baxter and I took a walk around the southern part of the island where there were ruins of a marae (an ancient temple).  The beach was rugged and the shells were beautiful.  We also found a mother dog and her puppy, who both followed us for about 1/2 mile when they weren't fishing for breakfast with their snouts in the tidal pools.    

The next day we moved on to Faare.  Throughout the expedition, we had class every day and tests every other day.  In Houhine, we took the test on boat safety and our knowledge of the sails.  We also had our first of what would be many marine weather lessons.  Aside from learning and tests, we were able to go ashore and experience the island.  Baxter summarized our adventure well  - Molly, Verne and I had a fantastic and completely unexpected cultural experience in Fare.  After a short walk around town, the three of us were separated from the group that was renting bicycles to ride to the marae (ancient temple site) so we decided to try our luck at hitchhiking which is a common and safe practice in French Polynesia. We had only had our thumbs out for a few minutes when an extremely tired and rusty double-cab pick-up truck stopped, which looked like it contained most of the occupant’s worldly possessions. We were soon introduced to Dominic and Leona, Fare locals. Using Molly’s high school French skills and Verne’s Hawaiian mannerisms, we explained that we needed a ride to the marae. Dominic was a thin wiry guy in his mid-30s with long-ish hair that had naturally dreadlocked. Leona was a bit younger with beautiful long black hair and a dark rich complexion. As we bounced down the road with them we all laughed as we tried to converse, in broken French using our hands, where we were from and something about our lives.

Shortly down the road we saw the local Gendarme truck (police) approaching us. Both Dominic and Leona quickly reached for their seatbelt shoulder straps, which they were not wearing, and we all laughed as the Gendarme passed and they both quickly released them.

Ten minutes into the ride Dominic explained that he needed to stop at a local store and he pulled off at a small house. As he was in the store, we learned from Leona that they had been married but were now divorced.  They had two daughters and she was excited to show us their photos. Dominic quickly returned with a loaf of coconut bread, a local specialty, which he had purchased for us! Such generosity from a couple that obviously had better things to do with their money than provide a treat to complete strangers they picked up on the side of the road.

As our new friends dropped us off at the marae, Verne gave Dominic his sunglasses as thanks for his kindness and we exchanged hugs and handshakes. Standing at the marae watching Dominic and Leona drive away we were amazed at how such a short interaction with new people could expose us to the overwhelming friendliness of the Tahitian people and the common themes of family, friendship and community we all share.

After returning to "downtown" Faare, we all met back at the restaurant on the harbor.  It just so happens that Jimmy Buffet wrote "One Particular Harbor" here and this is also where Crosby, Stills and Nash found the inspiration for "Southern Cross".

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