Saturday, June 18, 2016

I saw a shooting star last night....

So finally we are in Bora Bora, Andy's dream holiday destination - this has been a holiday of bucket list achievements! We arrived yesterday from Raiatea (10 minutes flight time!) and I have to say, the view from the plane as we were coming in was stunning. A perfect island in turquoise blue lagoon and dotted with sandy motus. I've never seen anything so beautiful, it really does look like a true paradise. The boat journey over from the airport (it's on its own Motu) to the Hilton Nui resort (which also is on its own Motu) was amazingly gorgeous and the arrival into the resort definitely has the wow factor. 

We arrived a couple of hours early so whilst we waited for our room we thought we would have a spot of brunch and a glass of pop to celebrate. Our happiness slightly marred by the tiny potions (we'd hoped to share food to save money, but that's not an option here!), the uncooked fish in the first burger we got and the dull ex army American sitting next to us with his Texan child bride who felt the need to talk to Andy (pretty much exclusively) about his entire life history. Still, we are in Bora Bora so it's hard to complain! And even with the ridiculous prices of the food (which I don't resent, but I do resent when it's not actually that nice) we are still here in paradise. 

When we got to our room - holy crap! The guy took us on a golf buggy to our room and then explained all the features and all I could think was, what do I want to play with first?? Is it the giant round bath? The walk in wardrobe/vanity room? The massive bed? The TV that comes out of the bedstead? Or the fricking amazing deck area with sun loungers, hammocks overlooking the water and the steps into the lagoon, the actual lagoon?? Get out man, we can work shit out ourselves! I have too many things to do in this room and only 3 days to do them in! In the first hour of getting into our room, we snorkelled around the coral beneath the overwater bungalows and lazed in the hammock. Heaven! We had dinner in the restaurant after happy hour cocktails and then walked back to our bungalow, where we sat outside on the deck looking at the stars. We even saw a couple of shooting stars (I wished on them, but they were only satellites, it's wrong to wish on space hardware.....) and it was so perfect. 

This morning we accidentally got roped into the continental breakfast (an outrageous $40 a person, for breads and fruits!!! Though when the bill came it weirdly was zero, oh well! ) and then we watched the Spain v Turkey game. In our giant bed. On the giant TV screen. Bliss!  After more snorkelling and lazying we ordered some burger lunch to the room (when in Rome) and then we continued with the lazying again. It's a hard life. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sunny days in Raiatea

The weather didn't really get better in Huahine, but still it was a great place to be even in the rain. Mainly because Samantha and Toriki who owe the Motu lodge we stayed in are lovely, lovely people who we both liked very much and their way of life is inspiring. 

On our last day we took a tour with Eco tour and Maneva who was our guide was a passionate and knowledgable Tahitian Frenchman. He picked us up first from the Motu jetty and explained the other guests would be French so he would do a half and half tour to keep it easier whilst at the sites. When Andy asked him how he'd learnt such good English he replied "I've had a lot of girlfriends". The other guests were a family of thoroughly metropolitan Frenchies (Prada glasses, clean, well ironed clothing, fun floral shorts for the teenage boys) - but they seemed very nice although their English was as good as our French and again it felt fustrating to us that we hadn't really bothered to learn some conversational French for our holiday. Next time for sure. 

We were taken to the marae first and Maneva took turns with each group to explain the importance of this place before the Europeans arrived and also how it was easily given up when the missionaries arrived with their more exciting God who had more stuff. Then we visited a small vanilla plantation/shop, a marae that hasn't been restored in the hills, but where the dead have been disturbed and a beach where the 1st queen to unify the island arrived in a drum, having escaped her family in Raiatea - annoyingly I didn't make a note of her name and now am unable to find it with a Google search (seems Google and wiki only want to talk about the rulers who dealt with the Europeans...) and as he was driving us round Huahine Nui he explained a lot about not only the history but also its current political and social status. He pointed out Cook bay to us, the first place James Cook had moored in Huahine. Apart from the electricity lines it probably looked pretty much the same when my ancestor saw it as today!

The last official stop was the mahoosive blue eyed eels in the river. He fed them and they slithered and writhed towards him whilst we took photos. Eels really are ugly. And I could only sing the "Eels up inside you, finding an entrance where they can" song in my head. A fun fact - apparently when these eels are ready to die they go into the ocean and swim very deep (to avoid detection as they have no defence mechanisms at all) to join up with their families in Fiji and give birth before they die. 

Before dropping us off Maneva took a detour via a distillery where we had many free shots of organic and locally produced fruit liquor and schnapps. Lovely stuff and we bought some to take home. Finally, tour over he dropped us all off in Fare and recommended the Huahine Yacht club restaurant for lunch. It was very nice, right on the front and it seemed calmer and more lagoon like than our side of the island. Andy and I shared a fish burger and chips, yum. (The portions are seriously on the big side here). Then after a little shop we were picked up by Samantha and her baby and taken back to the Motu. I was equally impressed and disturbed by Samantha's driving whilst holding a baby, talking on the phone and / or trying to appease crying baby (who was in a seat but there was no seat belts I keep him in place) so we did our best to distract baby from the back on the ute. Turns out he liked us, we got lots of big grins and giggles. 

When we got back Toriki showed us his vanilla plantation; a lot of hard and constant work goes into it and it was fascinating stuff. Then after a spot of packing and signing of Paul's book, we took some beers over to Samantha and Toriki's and had a lovely hour or so just chatting. Really hope we can keep in touch with these lovely people! 

The next morning at 5.30am they took us and all our luggage back to Lapita village, where our journey in Huahine had began. Samantha bought us breakfast for the water issues even though we told her there was no need and arranged a lift to the airport for our short and bumpy ride to Raiatea. Was very sad to say goodbye to her! And even a little sad realising we'll never see fish / cat again, even if he did spend the last day sulking as Andy threw his dead half mouse gift away. 

We had arranged a car in Raiatea and after picking up our retardly expensive automatic we drove anti clockwise around the island. The island is very dramatic and as it had been raining there were crazy waterfalls from the mountains. The water on the west coast is very muddy so it was only as we got to the south of the island we saw the beautiful blue lagoon we'd been missing from our Huahine experience. Sadly there are no real beaches around the island (and the few they have are part of hotels) and the only snorkelling options are via boats out to the Motus. We drove into the main town / city Uturoa, only to find it was all completely closed. Because it was Sunday....silly religion. So we just drove to our air BnB place instead, thankfully finding a supermarket on the way to buy a few essentials (Wine, bread, frosties).    

Fare Nyimanu is at the top of a hill and the vista is wow! amazing. You can see Huahine in the distance and the gorgeous lagoon below. Outstanding. The house, or studio as it really is, is cheap and cheerful. As in everything is very cheap (including the rent for a place in French Polynesia) but really the decor is quite depressing instead of cheerful (weirdly Samantha & Toriki stayed here earlier in the year when baby was sick and they needed to be near a hospital). Take from example, the basic white fridge that someone chose to put orange autumnal wallpaper over. Or the turtle poster in a plastic frame. Or the monkey ornament made out shells with a jaundiced face, holding a mouldy peach (unsure of peach is meant to be mouldy or if that just what happened to it). Why? Who thinks that'll be nice touch for the guests?? It was especially hard coming from Motu lodge, where everything felt as though it had been carefully thought out. But regardless of the tiki tackiness it is fine, the bed is comfy, we have a TV to watch football on, a kitchen that works and hot running water! And the pool area is amazing. Although this sits very close to their property, they have been very respectful when we've used it. The host Titaua is a lovely woman, although again if we'd bothered to learn French I think we would get more out of our stay here. 

On day 2 of being here (Monday?) we took the car back and then shopped in the main town / city Uturoa. It reminded us both of Maumere in Flores. A dirty town with cheap clothes and food stores and tacky gift stores (actually, not sure Maumere had any of those....). I had wanted a Tahitian dress but couldn't find one I liked so instead I bought some fabric to make my own. Now I just have to make my own....we found a cafe that was showing the Italy V Belgium match so watched that before going supermarche shopping. Honestly, one of my favourite things to do in a new place is going to the supermarket, I love to see all the different and similar stuff in the aisles. Hilariously a lot of produce here is from NZ! Anyway with our food shopping out of the way we met up with Titaua and she gave us a lift home.  

And here we will stay until we leave for Bora Bora on Thurday morning! It's saving us a lot of money being so far away from all the restaurants and bars which means more to spend in the millionaires paradise of Bora Bora. Plus it's been nice just hanging by the pool looking at the view, reading books and just chilling. And then as a final reason, Andy has got man flu so doing anything is not an option. Poor love! Fingers crossed he'll be better for Bora Bora. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Back in time to Tahiti

We are now back in the land of cheese, bread and the French. A sleepless night on the LAN plane back from Easter Island (damn you turbulence) and 4 hours sleeping on the floor in Papeete's airport, made for tired Smiths on our arrival in to Huahine, but almost like she'd thought of that, our wonderful Air BnB host Samantha had arranged for a pick up and drop off at the fancy hotel (Lapita Village) she works at, until the Motu lodge was ready for us. So our first few hours were spent reading / sleeping by a pool and then eating an amazing nicoise salad and drinking French wine. When Samantha picked us up in her 4WD we were ready to go shopping for some essential supplies (as in a weeks worth of food and beer) and then we enjoyed the gorgeous 30 minutes drive from Huahine Nui to Huahine Iti and then jetty to Motu Marimaora where the lodge is. Samantha took us over on the boat, a 5 minute pootle across to the Motu and her husband Toriki met us off the boat with their cute little baby. They own a vanilla plantation on the Motu so the rental accomodation was almost as an afterthought but they have made it beautiful. Very Japanese in style and full of lovely Polynesian wood and ornaments. Oh, and it comes with a hungry little kitten. He is quite tenacious so unless you really hate cats you should probably just accept your house guest! 

The first morning we spent snorkelling in the reef in front of the lodge - the current is quite strong so it takes a lot of effort to head upstream, but on the plus side you get back to the lodge in no time at all - lots of colourful fish and even some purple coral. Then the rain started. And the wind picked up. And none of these things stopped for 2 days. And the water pipe broke so no water!  Thankfully we had overprepared with food and beer and Toriki and Samantha bought us lots of water so we were all good, but the mozzies had a field day with us sitting inside - at one point it was harder to find a non bitten part of my skin then the bites.....It was also really. fustrating that we were on Huahine and were not able to get out and touch it. There are no automatic cars on the island and it was too wet and windy for an enjoyable scooter ride. But after a few hours of whinging we got our shit together and booked a tour with Eco Tours for our final day (tomorrow). 

Today the weather had improved enough for a snorkel and a kayak ride, plus we were honoured to be invited to watch the opening game of the Euros 2016, France v Romania in Toriki's house. It was an average game, but Payet scored a wonder goal to win the game in the 88th minute so we had happy Frenchmen and it was the prefect result.And now as I sit here writing this, looking out over the lagoon the sun has come out. Finally! The fucking sun has come out! Sunny days make a happy Nine. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Easter island. So much more than Moais!

Today is our last day in Easter Island but honestly, we could both stay longer. I came here for the Moais but I take my leave of it in love with its kindness and beauty as well as its history. And this weather has been amazing! So sunny. We've done all the archaeological sites on our map, some with Patricio of Green Island tours as mentioned in the last blog and some on our own, either walking around or in a rental car (note, rentals are ridiculously expensive, especially if you can only drive auto! Our Suzuki 4WD which we named Lgartha, was $120 NZD for 24 hours but worth it,for the freedom of going wherever we chose). 

And of course we ran the Rapa Nui half marathon. Which hands down is my favourite half so far. The hills that I'd been dreading, tiny in comparison to Auckland's and the apparent loneliness of the long distance runner was a myth. There were some supporters as we left Hanga Roa but the other runners were amazingly supportive with their thumbs up, clapping, waving or smiling at you. This was most apparent at the half way mark when suddenly you were running back in the direction you had come from and facing those still to turn around. Andy took off and ran at super fast pace (1hr 44, a PB!) and he ably assisted for a few kms by our dog visitor from the night before and I ran at my pace, thanks in part to a random man, runner number 82, who just kept and set the pace with me between 5 and 10 kms. I feel bad for finding my mana / power and sprinting on ahead of him after this, but he understood I'm sure. I cheered him in at the end and he seemed happy! It was nice to have a running buddy and pace setter again after so long (damn you VS for giving up on running and moving to England). I had a killer playlist and my form felt good. Only at 20km did left knee show some pain but I told it to fuck off and I kept on running, finishing at around 2hr 20. Andy was waiting for me as usual, and after we cheered a few more people in we left, and had a celebratory beer (Escudo) in the sun at Pea bar. Then walked / hobbled to Krava, one of our favourites. I had a veggie sandwich and it was amazing, avo, greens, tomatoes and nothing else! Then we went back to our hotel for a well deserved and unavoidable nap.

After I woke up I got some horrible news by email that was expected but still painful to receive. So before the ceremony we headed to watch the sunset at Ahu Tahai, the closest reconstructed platform of Moais and as the sun set behind these statues of wonder I thought of Darryl, and Alistair too. Darryl who knew about living life to its fullest and together her and Alistair did just that. Big loves always. 

The sunset was beautiful but over too quickly. So we headed along to the awards ceremony, expecting nothing but then my name got read out....Bronze for my age group, such an honour! We are still waiting to see the results as it's probable Andy got in the top ten....will update you when we know.  

We ate at Haka Hone, the place recommended by Patricio and it was amazing. I should mention that prior to the half marathon we went to a pasta party and picked up our race pack, where we met a nice Aussie lady called Emma, who was running the full. The pasta party was funny in that although the organiser was bilingual, the guest speaker was the first South America to climb Everest and he only spoke Spanish so what followed was a half hour tale of bravery and endurance told completely in Spanish. The worst parts were when the Spanish people in the audience laughed as this just reinforced that we had no idea what was going on! Anyway at the restaurant we met Emma again, eating at the table next to us with her tour group. We swapped emails so if we ever make it back to Adelaide we will have a few people to meet up with now. 

So now we are just chilling in the sun, reading and writing and then at 11pm we'll get on the plane and head back to Papeete. And to be fair, that's nothing to be sad about, as we will be staying on our own Motu in Huahine for 5 days! But I definitely leave a bit of my heart here in Easter Island, and who knows, maybe one day will come back. 

Highlights are too many to list, but for the sake of lists, as I do like a good list, here my top 10 things to do in Easter island -

1. Do a full day tour, preferably private and maybe with Green Island Tours (recommended!) of all the major sites. This will help your understanding of the island and history.
2. Hire a car and do the rest of the island and favourites again. Including chilling time at Anakena beach, the most picturesque beach I've seen.
3. You have to go to Rano Rako quarry and also Ahu Tongiriki but you should do this on a tour to help understand properly (see no.1)
4. Ohi sushi, some of the best presented and tasting sushi I've ever eaten. 
5. Te Moana restaurant for Chilean wine, good music and an excellent sunset.
6. Haka Hona restaurant for good music, Mahina (Easter Island beer) and sunset viewing.  
6. Do the Rapa Nui half marathon, or full or 10k....whatever floats your boat! 
7.Krava restaurant for its fish, rice and salad platter. Simple but oh so beautiful. Plus you can buy wifi from the Internet cafe upstairs and use it whilst drinking Escudos here.
8. Ice cream from Pea cafe. Whatever Crema Islanda flavour is, it's gorgeous! 
9. The Museum and Ahu Tahai are within walking distance of Hanga Roa so worth doing together, but you must do Ahu Tahai at sunset. Along with everyone else! 
10. Sit with a book on a grassy verge overlooking the sea or Moais ...wherever takes your fancy and just live in the moment! 

A special mention should go to the dogs of the island, completely wild but not at all feral (unlike Cooks or Tahiti). These dogs seem to be pets of the island, well looked after and fed and there as a companion when you need them! 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Te Pito O Te Henua - finally

We flew to Easter island from Tahiti yesterday; somewhere I have always wanted to go since I first read about the remote island in the South Pacific, thousand of miles away from the nearest landmass. Where ancient people made giant stone statues that no longer stand; where tribal wars, explorers and Chilean slave traders almost killed off the population entirely. On many an occasion I looked at the island through Google, tracing the island's coastline in search of Moai, and researched flights from New Zealand.

Then somehow, it became easy. A 5 hour flight from Papeete and here we are. Most people were transiting through and carrying on to Santiago, but the 30 or so of us that got off the plane for good were met with leis from our hosts and driven away. First impressions from the airport to Hanga Roa were of a sleepy town. The hotel Taura'a is at the end of the Main Street / town; unfortunately the hosts seem to belong to that group of people in the wrong line of work - they seem perfectly good people but they had no desire to offer information - in the way a good host always wants to shout about their piece of home - so without a map or welcome book to read in the room of the many activities to do and places to eat we decided to head straight out and see what we could find. 

The Main Street has gift shops, coffee houses, supermarkets and restaurant galore and even a fantastic sushi restaurant (Sushi Ohi) where we took a punt of ordering from the Spanish menu and happily both got what we wanted! An afternoon nap later, we went back out to explore and I found our 1st Moai - then promptly got told off by a passing Rapu Nui man on a scooter for getting too close to the statue. But as I now know the Moais are actually figureheads for burial chambers, I very much understand his anger. 

After a wander around the harbour we settled on Te Moana as a good place to have a beer or two and some snack food. Note, snack food in Easter island falls on the American side of the scale - as in, could feed 4 people as a main meal. We sat outside, waiting for the sunset and watching the surfers whilst eating a giant bowl of smoked fish tartare with avocado and toast (looked like dog food, tasted amazing!) and drinking beer. 

On a whim we ordered a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wine and enjoyed the music (Parov Stelar!) and people watched. Instead of sensibly heading back to our home, we decided to have another drink on the way in a random and deserted restaurant. Then some more food and another beer at a deserted pizzeria ran by an very odd man. The pizza was like no pizza I'd ever seen before; oval shaped dough with veggies, sauce and cheese piled high on top. Still, after 4 beers and 1/2 a bottle of wine it tasted pretty good to me. 

The next day was the full day tour with Green Island Tours. Our guide was Patricio, a Chilean man who married a Rapu Nuian and has lived here for 40 years. He certainly knows his stuff and really understands and loves this island. We went first to pick up a park ticket, you need one to go into any of the national park sites which is pretty much anywhere of interest on Easter island. You can get them as soon as you exit the airport but I couldn't see the ticket office there and in keeping with his not arsed demeanour, our host hadn't bother to mention this fact to us when he picked us up. 

Our first stop was Hanga Te'e, followed by Akahanga. Both showed broken Moais and Patricio explained how this was done by the short ear tribe, who had arrived at the same time on the island as the dominate long ear tribe, likely as their slaves (and probably picked up from New Zealand!). There is no known date for this colonisation of Easter Island but common belief dates it around the 14th century AD. After centuries of being leave workers the short ear tribe finally rebelled and wars broke out in the 17th century. When the short ear tribe triumphed they pulled down all the Moais. By the time the first explorers (late 18th century) found Easter island the Moais were all laid on the ground, face down. 

He also explained that these platforms, Ahus, were actually burial chambers for the great Chiefs of each tribe and their bloodlines, when one chief died his body would be dried out and placed under the stone platform. Then a Moai would be carved in his honour and placed on top of the platform. Then when another prominent member of that tribe died he too would be placed on the platform and it would gain another Moai. The lesser members of the family were cremated and their ashes buried under rocks by the platform. Around these Ahus would have been villages, with tiny houses and chicken coops and vegetable patches, a which have all now been scattered around the island due to disrestful rule, British farming walls, thievery and tsunamis.  Around Akahanga this was easier to see, as now Rapa Nuians govern their own national park they have made various reconstructions of how the village would have looked then. 

The highlight of this trip for me was the next stop, the Rano Raraku which was the quarry used to create all those Moais. As we wandered around the heads (with buried bodies!) Patricio showed us the cuttings in the quarry face, where Moais has been carved directly from the volcano face and only moved once the Moai was ready. This was so they would only use what was needed to make one Moai and at any one time several Moais were being carved at the same time (the small ears would have been the ones carving) Many still sit in the volcano waiting to be finished. The thing that blew my mind the most was that the heads around the grassy slope were the finished articles waiting to be taken, almost like a shopfront. So your chief's recently deceased? Wander over to Rano Raraku, pick the one that most fits his size and then transport it back to your village and add the final features that make it unique to your chief, and of course the red hair (top hat). Stick it up on the platform and voila! The perfect tribute to your fallen chief. Of course, no one still really knows how those Moai were moved from the quarry, or up on to the platforms but Patricio's theory was by mana (magic) and after wandering around today I like this theory the best. There was only one female Moai (Easter island was a very patriarchal society) and also one small eared man Moai - no one knows either why these two were created. 

We stopped here for lunch, empanadas and local Easter Island beer, Mahina. Both the porter and pale ale is highly recommended! After lunch we went to Tongariki, the reconstructed platform of 15 Moais. An earthquake from Chile created a tsunami that hit both Easter island and Japan in the late 80s which caused the fallen Moais here to be moved 300 metres further inland. This prompted a Japanese company in 1990 to begin restoration as a means of advertising a company. The Japanese are apparently regular visitors to Easter island and hold it in great respect and to show even more faith they returned a Moai they has taken from the island. If only Chile, Britain and the many others would do the same.....Anyway, for 4 years this company painstakingly recreated the Moai using images from before the tsunami of the fallen Moais. It's magificent to see. Around here lay the ruins of the village with visible petroglyphs. 

We stopped at another petroglyphs site, Papa Vaka where again the turtles, doubled hulled canoes and sharks where very visible in the volcanic rock. We also stopped at Te Pito Kura, which not only has one of the last standing Moais (drawings made by a European ship in 1888 of this statue standing tall prove it outlasted the rebellion wars but then sometime after this it was toppled too) but also a rock bought from the great island the ancients came from. This was believed to be an island somewhere between Tahiti and Hawaii, that suffered some horrible fate that required all its inhabitants to find a new land. The leader, Hotu Matu'a led his people (and those slaves) to Te Pito O Te Henga and with him he bought his shiny round magnetic rock as a talisman. Like the Motaeki boulders in NZ, is was a perfectly spherical shape but unfortunately we could not confirm the magnetic qualities as there is now a wall around it to prevent touching. Scientists believe it's actually a meteor. Either theory works well for me.

The final stop of the full day tour was Anakena beach,(which is also where the half marathon ends!) it's a beautiful white sandy beach with several more resurrected Moais and imported Hawaiian coconut trees. We took a walk around, had a little paddle then stopped to just watch the waves coming in and going out again. Very peaceful place and one we will revisit before the week is out. The drive home was via the half marathon route (only backwards) and it helped quell some fears we'd been having about the hills!

 Patricio showed us Haka Honu, a cafe on the harbour front that is great for sunset viewing so we got out there and said goodbye to him. It was a brilliant tour and he was a great guide, We ordered a snack to share (see previous point about food sizes) and a couple of beers and looked at all our photos. After a brief respite back at the hotel, we went to the Internet cafe to get wifi codes (the readily available internet promised to us on the hotel website has not worked since we got here and surprise, the host did not seem to care when we told her!) and sat ourselves in the restaurant Krava downstairs.   We ordered a tuna, rice and salad plate to share and watched some of the Chile v Mexico football game whilst also catching up with the world on Facebook and with emails. 

Such an amazing day in one of the most beautiful places in the world! Life is good.