Travel can take on many different forms. Some travel with backpacks across continents staying in hostels on the cheap. They meet travelers like themselves from across the globe, making temporary friends on the fly. Some tour in luxury, living a posh life in 5 star hotels, sipping perfect blender drinks with little umbrellas and sprawling on talcum beaches swept clean each day of its ocean treasures.
We are fortunate enough to understand and enjoy travel in many different capacities and we love drinking champagne by the infinity pool of the Ritz as well as beer on the dock with locals. Each type of travel brings different results. They all bring stories, the meat of life.
A few years ago, Ridlon and I fell in love with a little island off the coast of Cancun. And without really realizing it, we started spending more and more time there. What I mean is that our trips there lengthened in days until we started spending more than a month on any given trip. So in order to get to know the place, we found local places to live to have an opportunity to get to know place and people, language and nuance. We began building friendships with both people and animals and now regularly keep in touch. We liked it.
So this summer, we decided to return to another one of our favorite places in the world, a tiny atoll in the middle of the South Pacific in French Polynesia. We have been on this tiny scrap of sand more times than we can count, yet each time was either in the luxury hotel or ship based. We wanted this time to do it “local” and discover the real day to day life of the Tahitians of the Tuamotu Archipelago, north of Tahiti and the Society Islands. And dive our butts off.
The plan is to work with our dear friend, Yves LeFerve, the man who pioneered the diving here with his shop, Raie Manta Club. We will work au père, which basically means for free, helping him out with his divers throughout the Polynesian winter season. It will give us the opportunity to be in the water daily and give us ample time underwater with our cameras as well.
So we arrived at LAX on the evening of July 4th and miraculously ran into Yves in the KAL lounge. He and his girlfriend, Livia, were coming from Paris on their way back to Rangiroa. They had already done one red-eye, nine hours of time change and a 12 hour layover in LA.
We, on the other hand, had only flown in from Florida but also had had a 12 hour layover in LA. As it turned out we were flying different airlines to Papeete that night but in the end, flew together from Papeete out to the outer islands. The great thing about meeting up with them in Papeete was that we immediately began our education of “living local”.
One of things of concern to us is eating. Most of the diet on the island is rice and fish. Many years ago, I made the decision to exclude anything from the ocean in my diet, so naturally I was worried about how to maintain protein in my diet. Livia and Yves took us under their wings and told us of the many items that are hard to come by on Rangiroa including fruits and veggies. So it was off to the market in Papeete for a boxful of items from spinach and apples to olive oil and dish soap. Yves explained that you simply put everything in a cardboard box and sent it “Frêt” or freight on the plane. So we loaded up a box and with $28 in shipping, brought our spinach and dish soap to Rangiroa. Great lesson learned!
Our bungalow was rented site unseen in a small pension, or boarding house. The pension consists of six small bungalows or “fare” (pronounced “far eh”)as they are called in Tahitian. There were three criteria for our fare when we searched for a place to stay.
Location close to the dive shop as we would not have transportation
Air conditioning. In a tropical climate, I do not do well without AC.
Internet. Our plan is to be off the radar, but with two building projects going on, we need connectivity.
Well……..all I can say is that, we are close to the dive shop. Tahitians do no have AC, it’s really only in the hotels, so I’ll learn to do without. I was promised a fan, which did not materialize until I pushed the subject a little, but so far, the fan is doing the job. However, the fan has no protective covers so we have to be REALLY careful. It just happily spins away waiting to take a finger. And internet, well it is not too far away, and in the end, it’s probably a good thing. However, we can gear up at home and walk to the dive shop in less than 3 minutes!
We arrived late in the afternoon of July 5th, found our little fare that will fit the bill just fine, ate a little french bread with cheese and mustard we sent “frêt” (a small jar of mustard on the island will set you back $7!) and by 6:00pm we were crashed out beneath our fan, dead to the world for the next 12 hours.
We woke about 6:00 to sounds we recognized immediately. The sound of a new day in the tropics. People in the tropics are up with the sun to start the day since it gets hot fast. We heard the kids on their bikes, the dogs barking, the women talking over the fence (so to speak) and about 10 minutes of a very reluctant scooter. We knew we were not at the five star resort and we both smiled happily.
The first order of the day was a brief survey of the area to see what we had around us. While we know the area well, we don’t know the places that will become essential to local life such as the market (magasin in French), the little local restaurants called “snacks” and getting to know all the gazillion local dogs (essential to us as you all know!) and local neighbors (Ridlon is already out fixing kids bikes)
The island of Rangiroa is an atoll. This means that once, millions of years ago, there was a large volcano here. As the extinct volcano sunk under it’s own weight, the coral reef edge grew up, leaving a lagoon in the center of a ring of land. Rangiroa has one of the largest lagoons in the world, some 48 miles across. The inhabited part of the atoll, however, is a stretch of sand no more than a quarter of a mile at it’s widest and 6 miles long with passes at each end made from ancient rivers. There are two villages. One is called Avatoru to the north which stops at Avatoru Pass and the other is the town of Tiputa which is actually across the southern pass called Tiputa Pass. Our section of the island is at the very southern tip right on the pass, across from the town of Tiputa. Our little neighborhood consists of maybe 50 houses, two small grocery stores, two “snacks”, three dive operations and the island pier where the supply ships sometimes stop.
This will be our entire world for the next two months. It’s quiet and peaceful and simple……oh but with adrenaline pumping diving minutes away! But we’ll get to that.
Today, as I mentioned we are exploring. The local kids ride by on their bikes with all the necessities of life for them, a spear gun and a long loaf of French bread (baguette). The local water taxi pulled up to the pier bringing people over from the village of Tiputa. Of the two “snacks” we know now that Lilly’s is open Tuesday – Sat (or when Lilly feels like it) and Snack Otohu is open, well, whenever. We noted the grocery store hours, no sale of alcohol on Sunday and closes at 8:30pm, check!
We walked up to the groceries to survey what items will be at our disposal and to mentally build meals with what is on the shelves. Canned fish is dominant as are canned beans, hmmmm. Plenty of Coca Cola if you are willing to pay $4 for a1.5 liter bottle. The scariest part was the meat freezer (all meat comes in frozen). I recognized the French influence, leg of lamb, and veal parts. There were some hamburgers in a box and frozen chicken wings. Looking at the offerings, I’m now wondering how I can become an 8 week vegetarian……considering I don’t like vegetables.
There is some local produce and the idea is that you come in and see what is available that day. I found small green peppers, bananas and a few cucumbers so salad is possible! We didn’t arrive until 9:00am and found out we had missed the local eggs (note to self, arrive early for eggs). Eggs imported from Tahiti are available for $4.50/dozen. The early bird here obviously gets the worm (or the eggs!). As well, we picked up the second to last baguette, baked fresh daily of course, but I imagine there is a second bake today. We will check that out later.
Dive log is a separate entry but suffice it to say that today, Wednesday, July 8th, diving came AFTER the arrival of the fruit boat. We learned today that a boat comes every three weeks from the Marqueses loaded with fruit, namely mango, papaya, banana, limes and grapefruit and the idea is to be on the dock at 9:00 for it’s arrival. Fortunately for us, the dock is literally 100 feet from our house! So when we saw the boat, we trotted on over and met our friends Yves and Livia, Claudine and Paul. We dived into the fray and came out with a bag of grapefruit, (they are HUGE), a stalk of green bananas to hang on the porch, two bags of mangos and a bag of limes. Each bag is $10. So we hauled our $50 worth of fruit back to our kitchen, hung up the bananas to ripen, washed the rest and stored them in cupboards to keep any rodents out of them (we have an outdoor kitchen).
I wondered a bit about spending the cash for all those grapefruit when neither of us like them but everyone said they are really sweet so we gave it a go. This afternoon, we split one and it was super super delicious!!!
As we were diving today, we all heard a large boat overhead and wondered if the fruit boat was about to come over our heads and out of the pass but Yves signaled that no, that wasn’t it. We surfaced to find that The Dory, the supply boat from Papeete, had also arrived today with all the other goods to stock the local stores. After our experience trying to find some recognizable meat (the chicken we did find was 14 months old!) we thought we had better be first in line there as well! So we headed over to the grocery and found two bags of frozen chicken breasts and three other packages of what we THINK are chicken breasts but could be thighs, still unsure. But at least they had a date stamp that was in the future! We bought the store out of white meat chicken, leaving only frozen bags of breaded wings and boxes of fryer legs. I think we did well!
Today, our guests, Jill and Bettina arrived for a week to dive with us, so now that our fridge is stocked to the hilt, we will head over to the Kia Ora, the 5-star resort for dinner. I must say that we now have a much better appreciation for the meals they are able to make and serve there given how difficult it is to get supplies and how expensive the food is. I take back anything I ever said about the outrageous prices at the hotel!
There is much more to share but I would like to post this today to give you an idea of living life locally on a small sand spit in the South Pacific. Now that we have the basis of life here on Rangi, we will see what transpires!