Out Of This (Cyber)world

I have not been the most diligent of bloggers as of late, but I have an excuse! I have been in Ahe in the French Polynesia, out of the realm of internet access and back to the basics (in every sense of the word).

And I have returned victorious! I am currently back in Tahiti at the Faa’a International Airport waiting for my flight out to Bangkok, which I have brilliantly booked for 1:10am. Great planning on my part, right? Anyway, in a perfect world I would have been keeping this blog updated throughout the past two weeks; in an ideal world I would be able to do a post per day type thing until I was all caught up. Being this crazy, imperfect, chaotic world that it is (at least my world)…I have decided that I will make the best of it and update it all at once! So I have compiled a series of posts from my journal scribbles while in Ahe that you can now read from the start to the end. I might be out of internet for a while once again, but in the meantime you will have plenty to read.

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First Impressions

I flew into Pape’ete, Tahiti at about midnight. I almost melted. It was 12am and yet the temperature was still a very balmy 26*C. I joined my fellow flight members in a venture to customs and we were greeted with traditional Tahitian dancing and music (well, traditional as can be while in the international airport…). After a confusing interaction with the mainly French speaking immigration officer about where I was going to be staying for my three weeks here, I emerged on the other side, stamped passport in hand. I slept in the airport that night (which was really a wooden slab of a bench in the open air in front of the terminal) and decided to make my move in the morning. I awoke and tried to figure out where I was going. Per usual, I had planned ahead and booked…nothing. I didn’t even know the names of any hostels or hotels nearby. I vaguely remembered a place called Pension Te Miti that I had seen online and decided to just head there in hopes that they had a free bed.

As soon as I began to get my bearing and initiate conversations I was struck with one predominant thought, I wish I knew French. Everything was written in French; announcements would sound out in French first, followed by Tahitian, and lastly English. I guess I should have expected this, flying into Tahiti which is, in fact, a part of French Polynesia. It was interesting though being in a place where my language wasn’t the primary language. I exchanged some money over and found the French Pacific francs to closely resemble fake pirate money. The 100 franc coins are very lightweight and a shiny gold color. The paper money is also HUGE! With new foreign money in hand, I set off to find Pension Te Miti.

After asking around I discovered it was not in Pape’ete at all, but on the eastern coast in Puna’auia. I was directed to the bus stop by a local woman, but since we had a bit of a language barrier I pretended to know what she was talking about as she pointed somewhere in the distance and babbled on in French. Something about a road? Across the street maybe? I crossed the street, almost got hit by a taxi, and stood somewhat dazed and confused in the airport parking lot. I asked a nearby couple about the bus and, fortunately, they spoke English. Apparently I needed to go up the stairs to me left, cross the street and wait on the street behind it for the bus. The woman even expressed her regrets at not being able to take me there herself as she had to drop her kids off at school, which was in the opposite direction. First impressions of the people: so incredibly friendly.

I hauled myself up the stairs to the road and sat down at what I hoped was the right bus stop to head in what I hoped was the right direction. I hadn’t been sitting long when a taxi pulled up into the bus lane. He saw me, sitting there with my pack looking rather touristy and a bit lost, and asked if I was going to Puna’auia. (I still don’t know how he knew I was heading there). Slightly annoyed by the thought that I was being taken for a chance at easy money, and still quite sleep deprived, I rather firmly told him I was indeed but the bus would be just fine thank you. Geez I’ve gotten too used to Christchurch taxis…almost always trying to rip you off. No trust. “You want me to take you?” he enquired with all sincerity, “Free?”  I paused for a moment and tried to inconspicuously check for some sort of ID on his dashboard before replying with an exuberant, “Sure!”  He hoists my pack into the boot and just like that we are off to Pension Te Miti. “Welcome to Tahiti” he declares. Welcome indeed; I have only been awake and interacting with people for a few hours and already I am overwhelmed by the friendliness and welcoming attitude. The taxi driver, who’s name I wish I could remember, was very nice and didn’t expect anything in return for the ride. He didn’t even stick around long enough after dropping me off for me to offer any money in thanks.

Pension Te Miti is owned by a lovely French couple, and as I sat enjoying a free breakfast that came with staying at their guesthouse, I again wished that I could speak French. I tried to follow any of the French conversation that the four guests were having at breakky and I couldn’t understand any of it. Not even one word. Oh boy. I had two days to kill before meeting Erin and flying out to Ahe to meet up with Stephanie and Dustin-who had been there for a week- to wwoof at Kamoka Pearls.  Since I would have to get up at 630am to begin work once I got to Ahe, I decided to try and re-adjust my schedule. While it’s only a 2 hour time difference between NZ and Tahiti, my body had literally gone into vampire mode, and because of work I would be up all night and not feel tired until the sun began to rise. As a result, I spent my first two days in Tahiti sleeping. I would sleep restlessly through the night, wake up and do some mild adventuring for an hour or two before coming back to read pass out  in the hammock, followed by a quick swim and another lengthy nap on the beach. You may not believe me, but it was a rough couple of days…as far as my circadian rhythm was concerned.

The Birth of a Phobia

I went for venture on the beach today to capture a nice Tahitian sunset. I did capture it, but I’m not so sure I will be able to retrieve the photos. I was making my way across the black rocks on the shoreline when I came to a slippery patch and went down. I lost my footing, did a bit of a spangle dance, and promptly face planted. My purse landed under me in a pool of water and, camera still in hand, both splashed and crashed into a pool as well. And now it’s not working. 😦

But I digress. It is because of my intense desire to get a good sunset photo that I lost track of how far I was walking and ended up still making my way across the beach as night loomed closer.  It was on the walk back that I became re-acquainted with crabs. I have always viewed crabs as harmless little creatures that chill out on rocks and for the most part I hardly give them a second glance. Because the tide was coming in, I was running out of beach space between the crashing waves and the wall that separated them from the houses above. I had just trekked through the water to get to a small sandy bit and had just one more water crossing to make.

As the last rays of sun dipped below the horizon, casting the world in a purple haze, I first heard the tic tic tic of their claws on the rocks. I turned just in time to see a crab scuttle across the wall past me. Surprised, I jumped back before laughing at my own reaction. Suddenly, another one came streaking out of nowhere. Tictictictic, it’s little legs moved at lightning speed as it shot across the rocks. To be honest it actually looked a bit creepy. I began to see more and more of them-they were everywhere! On the rocks, on the walls, scuttling across the beach…I was surrounded. And I was trapped. I was trapped on this desolate speck of land, surrounded by black reef and rocks that provided plenty of nooks and crannies to hide a crab army. Some of those crabs weren’t small either.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I would soon not be able to see these ninja fast crabs in the impending darkness or that the diminishing light made them look like GIANT SPIDERS, but I became ensnared in the throes of an immobilizing and somewhat irrational fear of these crustaceans. Mild panic set in as to what my next move should be and, as if on cue, I hear a chhchhchhchhchh type sound. I whirled around just in time to see one of them run across the water to a nearby rock. These little monsters can walk. on. water. I stood helplessly and debated what to do; not even the water was safe anymore. I looked back the way I had just been but that was no use, the tide was even higher now and I couldn’t turn around. There was no way to get access to the road back there anyway. I fully debated going up the nearest set of stairs and knocking on some random resident’s back door just to ask if I could cut through their yard or house to get to the street. In the end I decided no, I needed to overcome this new found fear (and there were crabs all over the stairs).  I was losing light fast and had to take action. I began to tread slowly and cautiously forward, literally talking myself through it as my heart nearly pounded out of my chest. Tictictictictictictictic “You can do this Kayla, grow a backbone they are just little crabs.” Chchchchchch “Meeehhhhh….no, it’s ok keep moving. I mean they are crabs, you are at least 12xs their size. I mean they’re probably just as scared of you as you are of-AAAAAGGGHHH!!” I yelped while hurling a rock into the water and jumped back with a splash as one of them attacked me skittered across the water towards the beach. I’m sure in the daytime their amazing Jesus feat would be cool to watch, but on this dark, strange shoreline these hard shelled spider-like creatures that could run on water were what nightmares are made of. I began periodically tossing rocks in front of me as I walked in an attempt to force any little crabbies hiding in wait to show themselves.

The tide began to rush in even faster and I was only halfway across my watery hell hole. The rocks on the sandy ocean floor blurred, making it impossible to tell what was rock and what was creature. I honestly can’t tell you where this unnatural fear of crabs came from, I’ve never really been afraid of them before. I think what terrified me the most was either the idea of one of these crabs scuttling over my bare feet in the dark or running at me from across the water. I could envision them running at me, jumping and clawing up my leg like they did on the rocks. You would be scared too, don’t deny it. Food for thought: why was I only seeing these crabs after the sun went down? I was on the beach and over the rocks all day, where were they then? They were either vampire crabs (out for blood like any vampire) or demon crabs (and who wouldn’t be scared of a demon?).

After many almost falls, close calls, and constant, audible pep talk, I emerged on the other side unscathed. The rest of the beach was pure sand and seemingly vampire demon spider crab free (I spent the first few minutes anxiously scanning the ground for them before convincing myself they only like the rocks before the deep purple of dusk faded finally to black) and I enjoyed a starlit stroll along the beach.

I think I was caught in nothing more than a fleeting phobia of crabs, the thought of them doesn’t scare me and I’m pretty sure if I saw one during the day I would be fine. Or even at night.

Ahe and Kamoka Pearls

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 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 IMGP3065village 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 come from the various farms on this atoll.

Kamoka Pearls is one such farm. I had agreed to wwoof here with Erin, Stephanie anOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAd 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 jewelery-are the only three paid staff at this particular farm. The rest of the labor there is done by wwoofers like us.

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. WOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe 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.

The farm doesn’t look like much. 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 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwood 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 BelgiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAum. 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. 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 IMGP2962weathered 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.

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!)

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?

WWOOFING Means Slave Labor

Ok, it doesn’t really. Obviously. But we did get more than we bargained for when it came to workloIMGP3062ad. Gone was the dream of spending a couple hours a day on the deep blue and working with black pearls; after spending Sunday night spooning on the farm floor we were handed a machete the next morning and told to hack our way through the jungle.

Patrick wants to create an aquaponics system, which will act as a self-sustaining mini eco system and they can begin to grow their own fruits (way cheaper than having to buy it all). However, since they haven’t had time to properly work on land until we came we had to start from square one. The week before we had gotten there, the crew had cleared out a space where the aquaponics system would be set up and had begun clearing a road through undergrowth taller than I am, a myriad of leaves, branches, dead twigs, flies and mosquitos. Our first day was spent both prying massive rocks out of the ground with crow bars and hauling them out of their holes to clear the road and whacking down brush.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After the first night Erin and I relocated to one of the bungalows on the motu. Needless to say, it was definitely more comfortable. Each night we were lulled to sleep by the crashing surf and wind at around 10pm (if you can believe it) and arose with the sun at 6am. Everyone gathered at the marina and by 630am we had all taken the boat over to the farm, eating a breakfast of bread, coffee and instant noodles before boating back over to the moIMGP3051tu for work. As custom, we greet everyone in the morning with a kiss on each cheek. Seeing as I’m not exactly a morning person, about 22 kisses each morning took a lot of getting used to. I usually just kind of bumped cheeks with everyone, still half asleep. For the first week, work consisted of building that damn road. Day after day we chopped our way through the jungle with machetes, hacked at the coral based ground with pick axes and crow bars, jamming ourIMGP2927 toes, ankles and shins on branches and roots. We literally poured our blood, sweat and energy into the earth as we tore our way across the rough terrain.

At 1130 the horn was blown for lunch and we all trudged back to the farm for a delicious meal prepared by Leslie. We would always have a salad of sorts-usually cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and a vinegarette- accompanied with fish that the boys had caught while spear fishingIMGP2935 at the pass, and either some sort of potato or pasta dish. After an hour and a half long lunch, we would make our way back to the motu for another 3 hours of work in the baking heat before turning in for the day and relaxing on the farm, watching the sun set over the lagoon before heading to bed.

Some days we would swim and snorkel during lunch, often swimming with the sharks. One Saturday we tried to bring sharks in by rubbing an empty water bottle underwater-the vibrations are what brings them in- and only one lone shark wandered through, seemingly oblivious to our presence. We came across a large ray doing flips in the water and checking us out. I thought it was quite cool but Jeop, annoyed, muttered, “we try to attract sharks and all we get is this stupid ray.” No, I haven’t been living a spoiled life at all.

We worked 5 days a week, same type of work. We happened to come at an odd time, the weeks we were there were the first weeks they had been able to get onto land to do work in a while. It wIMGP2873as a bit upsetting because I was really looking forward to doing more things with the oysters and pearls, but so it goes. It’s hard to be too upset when I got to live life in a lagoon. What’s there really to complain about when every day I can sit eating my lunch on a bridge suspended over a turquoise blue lagoon, my own personal aquarium alive with parrot fish, jack fish, rays and black tip sharks meandering lazily below me.

Sharks: Cats of the Sea

After spear fishing, we would usually chum the water and entice the sharks to the clear waters beneath the farm. The boys would gut the fish and throw it all into the water. Once the sharks circled below us, we would tie a fish head to the end of a line and drop it iIMGP3465n the water, only to tease the sharks by pulling it back up and making them leap out to chomp on their snack. Very similar to playing with Puma the cat.

When spear fishing you have to shoot the fish and it becomes a race against the sharks. The sharks see an easy meal and you have to grab the fish and hoist it out of the water before the sharks get to it. It sounds terrifying and I have personally never done it. Next time I’m there, or somewhere like there, I am going to learn how to spear fish. It sounds awesome.

The second time everyone came back from the pass after spearfishing they had hauled in a barracuda. As they were gutting it Hearii pulled out a pulpy, bloody red thing, said something in French to someone else, and popped it into his mouth. After gagging and asking what that was, I found it was the barracuda’s heart. It’s raw, almost still beating heart. I gagged some more. Oh life on the sea.

Per usual, we passed our time in the remaining rays of sun baiting the sIMGP2876harks with the barracuda’s head.  He handed me the rope and I got to play with the 5 sharks that still remained, hoping with all my heart that I was not going to be yanked into the water by a strong tug of the shark’s jaws as I baited them like cats-pulling the string of guts up as the sharks jumped and snapped at it.

Just another night on the farm.

Creatures of Ahe

Turns out there aren’t many creatures on a young atoll. What a surprise. There were a couple birds, one of them a small green bird that resided on the island and there were egrets that sailed above us on the water. We had geckos, small geckos that would make their way into our fresh water bins so that only the closed top ones were safe to drink. We had plenty of crabs (and we all know how I now feel about crabs) and evenIMGP3179 more hermit crabs. There were apparently very small scorpions that I never saw and HUGE spiders.  Oh, there were plenty of flies and mosquitos too.

I had heard about the spiders from day one but it wasn’t until a week in that I saw one. Stephanie had told me about them and said how big they were, but I didn’t fully believe her. When she told me how big they were I thought they would have a big-ish body and really long legs. No, these things were BIG. I mean, the biggest small spider I have ever seen. You know, the really creepy kind. Not tarantula big, but skinnier, with less hair, seemingly faster and more creepy looking. I suddenly became terrified of working in their environment with plenty of places to hide in nothing but my jandals.

Hermit crabs, I have come to learn, are horrible little monsters. They are pure evil in a shell.  Leslie and Patrick tend to adopt animals that they find either in the village or somewhere on the motu and rescue, and they were telling us that once they adopted a half starved puppy from the airport who was nearly starved and missing half a tail. Turns out hermit crabs will eat the tails of puppies. What sort of evil creature does that to poor little puppies!

The flies, I have to say, nearly drove me to insanity. I honestly thought one OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAday that if the devil appeared in front of me right then and told me he would eradicate all the flies if only I gave him my right arm…and I would have done it. Or at least seriously considered it. I hated flies even more than mosquitos, they were ridiculous.

The only good things were the things in the ocean (except for the eels, I hate eels). We got to see pretty fish, rays, sharks and colorful coral in the crystal clear water of varying shades of blue. Ocean creatures were good. Land creatures…not so much.