I met Erin at the airport on a Sunday morning so we could fly out to Ahe later in the day. After over a year, it was great seeing her again. Ahe is an atoll in the Tuamotos-about an hour and a half flight on a small plane that only flew once every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. The pilot announced we were near arrival, and as the plane began to dip down I glanced out my window only to see water. Presently a tiny strip of land became visible and I realized we were flying into a lagoon. Excitement welled up in us as we realized that we would be living and working in a remote lagoon for the next two weeks.
If you want white sandy beaches, Ahe is not the place to go. Since it is an atoll, there isn’t much sand. What you get is rocks. Everywhere. There is no beach; the beach is rocks and coral. But that was ok, because I still have Thailand beaches to look forward to. And if you want a party, avoid Ahe. With only a few hundred residents and a village that only comes alive when the dory arrives (and that is only so everyone can pick up their supplies and food orders for the week), Ahe hosts a pretty quiet lifestyle in that regard. However, Ahe is a black pearl haven. A majority of Tahitian black pearls distributed around the world come from the various farms on this atoll.
Kamoka Pearls is one such farm. I had agreed to wwoof here with Erin, Stephanie and Dustin without even knowing what exactly I was getting myself involved in. Neither did any of them, so we were all wandering into this blind. Kamoka has two pearl farms, one of which was our Ahe location. Patrick and Leslie own the farms, while Laraunt is the manager. Laurent, their grafter Timmy, and Heartii- who not only works with the oysters but markets the pearls and turns them into jewelry-are the only three paid staff at this particular farm. The rest of the labor there is done by wwoofers like us, people from various countries connected to a network of eco-friendly farms and independent businesses looking for volunteers. You don’t get paid, but you get to experience a new culture, live like a local, and cultivate new skills for free.
We touched down and disembarked (the airport being one thin strip of runway and a small thatched roof hut where you check in. There is a large terminal right next to the hut but for some reason it remains unused), both of us wondering what exactly we were walking into. We didn’t know who was picking us up or what they even looked like. Erin and I stood there looking expectantly around, hoping that someone would come forward to collect us. Stephanie quickly found us and introduced us to Patrick. We gathered our belongings and jumped in the boat to begin our 40min trip out to the farm. I had expected to get a little wet, but we got SOAKED. There was not a single dry spot anywhere on the boat, or on us, by the time we coasted to the jetty. Fortunately it’s almost always warm in Tahiti!
The farm doesn’t look like much at first glance. It stands on stilts in the water, connected to land by one very long, two planks wide bridge that was currently broken. The farm itself is comprised of wood and sheet metal, looking almost like a giant tree-house suspended in the middle of the ocean. We disembarked from the boat and received the grand tour, which included meeting our fellow wwoofers from various parts of Europe including France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. We were also introduced to a very pregnant dog named Kuri (who had her puppies a few days after our arrival, they were so cute!) and a spazzy cat named Puma (such personality!). The showers, we learned, consisted of nothing more than a pot that you would fill from a large rain barrel that collected fresh rain water and pour over yourself. We just so happen to be in a naturally warmer weathered climate so cold water dousing didn’t sound like such a bad idea. Come to find out, there is no plumbing system on the farm and the toilet was just one porcelain ring away from squatting over a hole. There was a toilet there, but you had to haul your own water up with a bucket and pour it into the bowl after relieving yourself, which in turn would flush it back out to the sea directly below you. On the bright side, you get the most beautiful bathroom view I have ever seen!
This was all a bit of a shock to Erin and I. Fortunately, we have the superb ability to live in our own filth for large amounts of time, and were quite able to adapt to no plumbing and make-do showers. (Much to our dismay, most people shower at least one a day here…which is crazy because in all reality it gets quite chilly once the sun goes down and the wind has a bit of a biting edge to it when you are wet. We usually just jump in the ocean when it’s still warm out, throw a couple buckets of fresh water on us and call it good!) While it was a steep adjustment, I came to really enjoy and appreciate the back to basics lifestyle; it made me realize all of things I think I need but don’t actually need.
Kamoka Pearls owns not only the farm on the water, but part of the land as well, which is their motu (which in Tahitian means something similar to property). There are quite a few bungalows on the motu, but since none of them would be free until the next day Erin and I ended up spending our first night out on the farm. We found ourselves on the floor of the farm that night out on the water. As we lay practically spooning each other on a small mattress on the floor the question passed again through both of our minds, what have we gotten ourselves into?