Saturday, June 24, 2006

the lasts.

So, here I am at LAX again. At the same place where this blog had it’s start. And I remember then having that surreal feeling about leaving for Tahiti, and now it’s come back again now that I am gone. The five incredible months that I spent there went by so quickly, it all seems like a bit of a dream. Is it really time to go? I’m going to miss being able to walk to the market and buy a fresh coconut! There was a month or so while I was there where I wanted to come back, see everybody, and although I am still excited about that, if I could have stayed longer I would have. I miss it already.

The few days after I got back from the Marquesas moved at an accelerated pace. I went surfing a lot, and am proud to say that I can now sort of stand up (shakily, for a few seconds) on Kelly’s malibu. Bwahaha, surfing is too cool, I think I’m in love. Since I had already checked out of the Foyer, my living situation was uncertain, but things worked out in a really good way in the end. Laurence and her friend Solene were supposed to stay in an apartment starting mid-June because the family that lived there was leaving to France, and asked Solene to house-sit. Laurence offered that I stay with them, so after I got back from the Marquesas, I took all my things over to the apartment.
The place turned out to be gorgeous; it was very close to what I had hoped living in Papeete would be like (read: the opposite of the Foyer). It was this big, spacious, 3-bedroom apartment on the fourth (and last) floor of a building right in the heart of town. It was really great to spend my last few days with no curfew, no restrictions on when I could use the kitchen, and hot water. And most of all, it was great to spend my last few days with Laurence, with whom I’ve become good friends, and who has been incredibly awesome to me (je me suis bien amusee en lisant tes cartes dans l’avion, ma belle! J’ai adore aussi le cadeau!!! <3). Saturday night, we had a small gathering at the apartment and had Ricard (Pastis). I don’t know if Pastis as a drink is known in Canada; I only found out about it after hanging out with French people. It’s this thick anise-flavored liquor, which you mix with water. Although it probably won’t become my drink of choice, it was cool to try, partly because it’s incredibly French. We then went to a local nightclub called Morrison’s, where they were holding the Miss and Mister University elections. Although the elections themselves were kinda dull, the music afterwards was good, and we didn’t end up leaving until late. The next morning, we watched the France vs. South Korea football match, and afterwards Heather, Laurence, Seb and I all went to go surf. In the evening we ate at the roulottes, a popular, relatively cheap series of restaurants that are set up on the waterfront. Everything was really simple and natural, and it was the perfect way to spend my nineteenth.
On Monday I ran errands in town, and went out to eat again with the girls. I did most of my packing, and in the evening Laurence and I watched a French movie about quasi-surfing (Brice de Nice). And that brings me to Tuesday, my very last day in Papeete. Kelly and Heather and I got up early and went surfing for the last time (for me, anyways) at Papenoo, which was a perfect way to begin my last day. After that, I went back to the apartment, finished packing, and then went out and walked around Papeete some more. By the time I got back, Laurence had gotten back from working at the pool (she trains kids and teenagers there in the evenings) and she made dinner for me. This girl is an incredible cook; we ate an eggplant and goat cheese tarte to begin, and had pineapple cake for dessert. The girls and I had time to go to a local brewery (3 Brasseurs) and have a last beer before we headed off for the airport. Since my plane was leaving at two in the morning, and Laurence was working the next morning, it was Kelly and Heather who accompanied me to the airport. We knew that we needed to leave well in advance, since at this time busses are really infrequent, and it’s not the safest time to be traveling. While we were saying goodbye to Laurence, we decided to hitchhike, and by some sort of luck, an off-duty cop picked us up. He ranted about politics in French Polynesia the whole way to the airport, but it was amusing, and we got to there in good time and safely.
My flight to LA went by super-quickly, mostly due to the fact that I was so tired from surfing, and slept most of the eight hours. And now I’m writing from the plane coming to Vancouver. Hey, let me tell you, Duty Free are good people. I got a carton of Marlboros for 1410 Pacific francs (a little over $20 CDN) and a bottle of tequila for $19 bucks!

Some last words to end this blog? I’m not sure. It always seems forced to have to make cheesy (et ce n’est pas du Roquefort!) goodbye comments, so I will just add what I am thinking:

“L’importance de certains details devient immense quand il est temps que je m’en aille.” Vous, vous avez transforme (comment est-ce qu’on fait pour mettre les accents?) une programme d’echange scolaire en voyage incroyable. Je n’ai jamais pense que j’aurais appris tant de choses et cree tant des memoires. Je suis chanceuse d’avoir fait connaissance avec des gens si accueilants et amicales. Mauruuruu surtout a Laurence, Kelly, Heather, Alia et Yolande - on va toutes se revoir un jour. La Polynesie, j’aimerais bien revenir bientot et decouvrir encore plus de ta beaute et de tes gens. Et, beh, je dirai aussi qu’une des choses que j’ai bein compris pendant ce voyage c’est qu’on peut ameliorer n’importe quelle situation en souriant et en ayant une attitude libre envers d’autres idees et coutumes… Allez, nana!

-Anya

Monday, June 19, 2006

Marquesas part 3 - Nuku Hiva

On Monday the 12th, I got to Nuku Hiva, the biggest and best-known island in the Marquesas. There was a taxi driver waiting to take me to the house that I would be staying at. Oooh, and talk about transportation costs. The taxi drive to get from the airport to Hitiheu (the village I would be staying at) was more expensive than my plane ticket from Ua Huka to Nuku Hiva. I find that crazy. And apparently my driver was one of the cheaper ones on the island – usually it’s even more expensive than what I paid. Things actually turned out well, because there was a woman who needed a ride to the main town, and the driver offered to drop her off first, and then we would head to Hitiheu. That way, I would get to see a large portion of the island. I gladly agreed, since my plans were completely flexible. The driver turned out to be quite nice, and he stopped periodically at viewpoints and let me take photos. Nuku Hiva has the most varied geography in Polynesia, from what I have seen. The island is mostly lush and green, but the vegeratation is both tropical and unusual. We passed forests of what seemed to be pine trees, the first I had seen in Polynesia. There is a big canyon (actually called Grand Canyon, although the one in Arizona is a bit more impressive), waterfalls and many valleys with towns nestled in them. Anyways, let’s hope my camera captured some of the beauty of the island.
While the driver and I were on our way to Hitiheu, we passed a couple who were hitchhiking. The driver stopped, and the couple explained that they needed to go to the waterfalls, which were on our way. They got into the car, and when I asked where they were from it turned out that they were also from St. Petersburg. Anya and Andrey had been sailing around the world for three and a half years now. It was an incredible coincidence to meet Russian people on Nuku Hiva, of all places. They asked me whether it would be possible to meet for dinner one night when I am here, and said that if I wanted to, I could even stay on the boat for the night. I eagerly gave them Bernadette’s number, and told them to contact me that evening. After they got out of the car, the cab driver and I continued on to Bernadette’s.
The girl I am staying at is Yoyo’s niece. I think I’ve mentioned Yoyo in here before, but just briefly. Seriously, I could fill up pages with all the things this woman has done to help me and how incredibly nice she has been to me, and all the other girls at the Foyer. She work’s at the Foyer and lives there permanently, which I think is difficult in itself. She loves to laugh, and always reaches out to people, makes them feel welcome. And if there is anything anybody needs, she goes out of her way to help people right away, which is exactly what she did for me when it came time for me to go to the Marquesas. She phoned her niece (Bernadette) right away, and asked whether I could stay there for a few nights. Her niece agreed, and when I got to their house, it was evident right away that being incredibly warm and welcoming runs in the family.
Bernadette and her youngest daughter greeted me right away with two fresh-flower wreaths. They showed me to my room, which is very simple, with only a bed and an ironing board they put in for me to use as a table. Their whole fare (house) is the most simple that I’ve stayed in during my travels. Bernadette lives there with her husband (Kelly), two daughters, and younger sister (Julia). They do not have a car or a fridge, and the bathroom and shower had just been completed the morning I got there. Despite the lack of material wealth, they are lovely people who made me feel at ease right away. We had lunch of veal cooked with coconut milk (surprisingly good, since I don’t usually like veal), rice, and uru. After that, I went down to the beach for a swim. In the evening Bernadette showed me how she makes necklaces of grains, and her sister made me a cute hair pin using a special type of sea-urchin shell.
The day after, Bernadette, Julia, and Kelly all went to gather noni, so I spent the first half of the day wandering around the small village. On this island, not far from Hitiheu, is where Survivor Marquesas was shot. Bernadette helped out during the filming, and apparently the producers had promised to send them copies of the DVD once the series had been aired on TV. Now, almost six years later, no one has gotten a copy of the series. I hope that maybe I can find one when I get back because I’m curious as to how the Marquesas were portrayed, and because I’d like to send it to Bernadette. Anyways, another thing that several people in the village had told me was that there was a team of Ukrainians in the village who are part of something having to do with satellite and antennas. When I went to swim later on in the day, there were several men who came in the water, and as soon as I saw the speedos, which Russian men are famous for wearing, I knew that these were the Ukrainians. Anyways, we got talking (they were shocked to meet somebody Russian) and I found out that every few month the company that they work for (SeaLaunch) sends them to the Marquesas to track a satellite which orbits around the equator. This is part of an international project, and as I understand it, there are sites like the one at Hitiheu in several places around the world. While the guys are here (there are nine of them), they all live in a small pension in the village. Most of the guys that were there had already been to Nuku Hiva many times, so they weren’t as impressed by the island as I was. And, well, they were bored. A few of the guys invited me to the pension that evening to drink Ukrainian beer, and since I was interested in hearing their stories, I gladly accepted.
That afternoon, before going over to the Ukrainians’, Kelly took me to an archaeological site located kind of close to their house. There was a couple who was doing an excursion there, and since Kelly knew the guy leading it, I got the chance to listen in on explanations of ancient Marquesian rituals and legends. It was a really huge site, with many ti’i (statues) and ma’ae (ancient ceremonial sites), and it was interesting to explore it with a guide, a knowledgeable Marquesian man, who had worked with many archaeologists to uncover the site. Anyways, the only downside was that this site was deep in the valley, and I had not had the brains to wear pants. When I got out of there, my legs were completely covered in tiny, red mosquito bites, and it wasn’t very pretty. But, other than that, that was probably the worst that mosquitoes got in the Marquesas. Before I left, everybody was warning me to bring tons of warm clothes and things with long sleeves, but I actually found that I didn’t need much of that, and that neither the mosquitoes nor the famous nono were a problem. I might have just been lucky, though, because a lot of days were windy, and there are less nono when it’s windy.
When we came back from the site, I had dinner with the family and we talked for a while before I went over to meet the Ukrainians. At their pension, we drank yummy beer straight from Ukraine and munched on suhariki. It was really cool to hang out with the guys, speak Russian, and listen to familiar music. We exchange e-mail addresses, and I may still get a chance to see them again when I am in Papeete. Also, I found out that they have a rented car here that they use to get to their antenna, which is set up on the edge of the mountains surrounding the bay. Since Anya and Andrei were docked in the neighboring town, I needed a way of getting to it so that I could meet them the next evening (we had arranged this when they called earlier on in the day). The Ukrainian guys told me to go talk to their boss, Vadim, about whether they could take me to the town where the Russian boat was docked. Vadim accepted, and I was glad to have an assured means of transport for the next night.
When I came back to Bernadette’s, she had finished making a necklace especially for me. It is this gorgeous collier made out of special sea-urchin shells that I had found in Ua Pou. There are many shells, and the back and the clasp are made of Marquesian seeds. It was incredible to have something so nice be custom-made for me. That night, Bernadette and her sister had to work well into the night to finish an order of red seed necklaces, so I decided to stay with them and string the red seeds onto the fishing line. Bernadette pierced the seeds with a special machine, I strung them onto the fishing line, and Julia then cut the line to make necklaces.
On Wednesday it was planned that Julia and I would hike up to the neighboring valley of Anahou. The hike takes a little over an hour, and the views are spectacular. Anahou is practically uninhabited (you can only get there on foot or by boat), and has long stretches of white sand and good swimming spots. We had snacks, swam around, tanned for a bit on the beach, and then headed back to Hitiheu so that I could finish packing and to have lunch. Before Vadim and Aleksei picked me up, Bernadette’s family had packed bags full of uru, papayas, and bananas for me to take onto the boat, because they knew that Anya and Andrey probably didn’t have much fruit. It is really sweet gestures like that that astound me. People are so incredibly generous - it really contrasts with what I am used to in Canada. Not to say that Canadians aren’t generous, it’s just that I think that generosity there is usually shown less to strangers. Anyways, on that lovely note, I left Hitiheu and headed toward Taipevei, where Anya and Andrei’s boat was docked. I think I kind of underestimated how long it took to get to the neighboring town, and I was incredibly glad that Vadim had said yes to driving me.
Before getting in the little rubber boat to get to their catamaran, we all talked for a while, but Vadim and Aleksei had to leave quite soon, since they still had work to do that night. Anya, Andrei, and I left the shore and made our way over to their impressive catamaran. Since it was already dark, we decided that I would explore the boat tomorrow morning, and we sat in the main cabin and had dinner. Now, I am usually pretty good on boats, and I don’t usually get sea-sick. However, that night, the sea was kind of rough, and I began to lightly feel nauseous as Anya was cooking dinner. Thankfully, they gave me some sort of pill to take, and soon after I felt better, although I still couldn’t eat much dinner. We spent the whole evening talking, and they told me about how the idea to build a boat (they had built this catamaran themselves!) and to sail around the world came about, and how much trouble they had finding the means to do so. They also showed me this huge folder, which was full of articles that had been written about them in different countries. Not that sailing around the world is unheard of, but while doing it they set up exhibits to promote Russian culture and works of various Russian artists and photographers, so the articles were written also to promote the exhibits. Anyways, I wish I had time to write down some of the stories they told me, but I don’t have much time. I hope I get to see Andrey and Anya again some day, and hear about how their trip continued. For anyone who’s curious, their website is www.blagovest.metrocom.ru . And now, after such an awesome end to my trip to Nuku Hiva, I am back in Papeete. It has been really nice seeing everybody, I am again in that frame where I don’t want to go back.

Marquesas part 2 - Ua Huka

My sejour (stay) in Ua Pou ended on a nice note. The day before I left, we took a short trip to Manfred Cascade, a waterfall which is close to Eri’s village. We all swam in the refreshingly cold water, but quickly headed back to the car because of all the mosquitoes. After dinner, Eri’s, her mom and I had a good talk. They asked a lot about Canada and how different I find it from chez eux. They gave me a really lovely caillou fleuri and some beautiful shells as going away presents. The next day, we headed to the main village to visit the Air Tahiti office before heading to the airport. Unfortunately, the line-up was too long, so I couldn’t do anything about my ticket there. They couldn’t do anything at the airport either, because the airport of Ua Pou doesn’t even have electricity! I said my goodbyes to Eri and her mom, and Eri put around my neck a Marquesian necklace made of all different types of seeds. The Marquesas are quite renowned for these necklaces – the colors of the seeds are so unusual that most tourists have a hard time believing that they are not beads and have not been painted on.

So that’s how I headed off to Ua Huka. There was a short stop in Nuku Hiva in between, which was great because the airport has a small shop where they sold La Depeche de Tahiti (the local newspaper) and Fenua Orama (a local women’s magazine), so I immediately bought the magazine to have at least something to read. I was one of two people to disembark at Ua Huka, and was promptly greeted by the lady who owns the pension I am staying at (Alexis). I was also able to confirm my ticket change there, thankfully. At first, the choice of pension seemed like a bit of a mistake. It’s right in the middle of the main town, in a house which is right by the side of the road. It is basically just a family’s house, some rooms of which they converted for the pension. The rooms are very basic, and you really just feel like you are in someone’s home instead of a pension. Also, as I decided not to take the food-included option, I made sure to ask whether I could ask their kitchen facilities before I made reservations there. Alex, the woman’s husband, told me over the phone that I could, but failed to mention that it was for an addition 700 francs (around $10) a day. I was kind of upset, since, well, I’m trying to save money here, so I just decided to make use of the kitchen on Saturday and Sunday. The pension is about 1 km away from the ocean, and even when you get there, it’s only the main quay which is accessible. Alex told me right away that I would not be able to swim there because it was polluted from the boats and because it was filled with sharks. I’m not too keen on polluted water or sharks, so my hope of lots of swimming was kinda squashed by that one. During the day, I took a walk around the village to the quay and bought some things for dinner in the town’s shop. After that, my evening was calm.
Oh, also I forgot to mention that Alexis is kinda crazy. She’s always ranting off about this or that, and informing me that I won’t really be able to do anything since all the museums and the arboretum are closed. I also asked her for some books to read (she had told me there was no place to buy books on the island), so she said she would pull out hers for me. Her collection of books consisted mainly of the religious and self-help genre (or a combination of both). I did find one book called The Five Tibetans, which talk about the five (well, six, actually) rituals (exercises, whatever you want to call it) that come from Tibet and hold the secret to being young. I was curious, because it wasn’t the first time I had heard about the rituals – I believe my dad had mentioned that something of the sort existed. Anyways, I read the book pretty quickly, but I have yet to try the exercises, haha.
But despite the crazy lady, my stay at the pension was getting better. In the evening, I watched the news and the French version of Jerry Springer with Alexis. She offered to drive me to Hane (one of the three villages on the island) the next morning, as she had a meeting at the church there. I figured that I would go, since it was my only chance to see that side of the island without having to pay. Early the next morning, we headed off to Hane, and while her meeting went on, I walked around the village, and then made my way to the village which was about 3 km away. There was not much going on in either village, and it wasn’t sunny enough to swim. Plus, I found out that it was probably a good thing I didn’t swim because the bay was filled with jellyfish at the moment. I spent most of the morning reading, and then met Alexis to go back to Vaipatee. One of the church ladies gave me a bottle of citronade, which is fresh squeezed lime juice (the Marquesas are known for the quality of their limes) with a bit of sugar. Really, I wish I could send a bottle over to Vancouver, this stuff is yummy. After we got back to town, Alexis offered me to have lunch with them, even though I wasn’t doing the food-included thing. Mmm, lemon chicken, poisson cru, and rice!
After lunch, Alexis told me of a walk I could take up the mountain close to the pension. It was one of those really nice, cool days on which it’s a pleasure to hike. It took me about an hour to get to the top, and the view from there was just stunning. I don’t know, as cheesy as this sounds, I can’t help but be humbled when I see nature like that in all its awesome dimensions. Ua Huka’s geography is less striking than that of Ua Pou, but it’s mountains, valleys, and little ilots (the same as a motu) are still quite impressive. Anyways, the walk was a super-nice way to spend the afternoon, and when I came back it was already getting dark. At dinner, I made myself some cous-cous (I’m addicted to this stuff) and talked to Alexis, who is very curious about many things, and asked me lots of questions about Canada, Russia, and my impressions of Polynesia.
Sunday morning started off with me (voluntarily) going to mass at the village church. I had never gotten a chance to go to mass in Polynesia, and I’ve always wanted to see how it was done. Come to think of it, I’ve never gone to mass in Canada, but here it seems like it’s quite a big affair. Everybody gets decked out in semi-traditional Tahitian dress, many women wear large straw hats, and crowns made out of fresh flowers are worn. My wreath was made out of Tiare (Polynesia’s famous flower; they say that once you smell Tiare, you will not want to leave the islands) and basil, and smelled incredibly good. Also, it was actually Alex who led the mass, since the priest was away. Anyways, the mass was completely in Marquesian, so I didn’t understand any of it, but that didn’t bother me. Every once in a while, the church’s attendants would sing, and it was just simply gorgeous. Marquesian sounds very beautiful when sung, all of the glottal stops masking themselves in smooth transitions.
That afternoon, there was a gathering at the quay. The women all played bingo, while the men played petanque (bocce in English, I think). There were generous plates of food being sold for quite cheap, and I bought a ma’a tinito (Chinese food). I hung out at the quay and watched for a while, and then went back to the pension. I ended up taking another walk in the direction of the airport, but this time the walk was less enjoyable and the views less rewarding. I again spent the evening talking to Alexis, who, despite her craziness, has good intentions.
The next morning I had time to go to the post office and quickly check my e-mails, and then check out the island’s tiny museum. They open it by request, and although the exhibits are all quite dusty and poorly looked after, there was still some interesting stuff. I came back to the house, gathered my things, and Alexis drove me to the airport.

Marquesas part 1 - Ua Pou

I am writing now from the Marquesas archipelago; more specifically from the beautiful island of Ua Pou, in the village of Hakahetau. I am staying at Elizabeth’s family’s (Tahitian name Eri) house – she’s a girl who I had met briefly at the Foyer and who offered to let me stay at her place if I am ever in the Marquesas. And here I am. After deliberating for too long with what I want to do in June – stay in Papeete, go to the Australes, go to the Society Islands by boat, go to the Marquesas – I finally made a quick decision to come here. The Marquesas are considered to be an extremely beautiful part of French Polynesia, but they are perhaps the least tourist-friendly of the archipelagos. Because they are geologically very mountainous, with lots of jagged peaks and with no lagoon surrounding them, they are often very hard to get around. The roads are paved only when they pass through villages and next to the airport, so to get from point A to B you need a good truck that has four-wheel-drive. In fact, I read that on most islands cars aren’t even rented to tourists because they do not know the roads well and usually have a lot of trouble. Most of the time, to get around the islands, tourists have to hire a driver. There are no big, luxury resorts and there is not a plethora of brochures aimed at tourists in the Marquesas. Most people here are involved in agriculture; needless to say, there are not many new jobs that are created here, so people often inherit family plantations and make crafts at home. The islands are also notorious for their nono, small black flies which are extremely annoying and leave bites. On the positive side, Marquesians are known for their high regard of culture and tradition. They speak a language that is different from Tahitian, and most people here speak Marquesian more than they do French. Dance performances happen often, and the quality of artisan creations here is reputed to be very high.

I must admit that I was skeptical of coming here at first. Although the amount of good things said about the Marquesas intrigued me, I am also often a creature of comfort, and I wasn’t too sure how I would get around and where I would stay. However, it is only my second day here, and I am already so glad I came. Ua Pou is incredible – I have never seen such breathtaking scenery. The twelve jagged peaks of the islands, which are said to look like obelisks, are often half-hidden in the clouds, and juxtapose beautifully with the valleys and plam-tree lined bays. While driving through the island, you can often see groups of wild horses which roam Ua Pou. Eri’s village is small but very pretty – there are two small stores, none of which are marked, so it’s really one of those things you just have to know. Her house is just by the rocky beach, and is made in a charming, simple Polynesian style. In the house there are her mom, dad, younger adopted sister, boyfriend, and another guy names Joseph, who is doing his apprenticeship at Eri’s father’s plantation at the moment.

I think that the way my first night on the island went proves that staying with a family will provide you with an experience which is equal to no other. On Saturday, Eri, her sister, and her boyfriend came and picked me up at the airport, greeting me with a beautiful wreath made of tiare and ylang ylang flowers. When we got to the house, we had lunch right away, which consisted of rice, poisson cru, uru, and fried swordfish, which Eri’s boyfriend had caught the day before. After lunch, Eri took me on a small tour of the village and afterwards we went to the quay right by her house to swim. There are many smaller children in the village, and they were all playing in the water and jumping off the quay while we were there. Eri told me that later on that day, a French military boat was supposed to dock close to the village, so its population was preparing dinner and a celebration for the men on board. By the quay, there is a small house built which is used for community events, which is where the event would take place. Since Eri’s mom is both the town’s nurse and ‘mayor’, she had a big part in the organization of the event. There were girls who were set to perform traditional dance that evening, so I watched while they practiced. While I was napping, the music, drinks, and food were set up. When I arrived, Eri’s mom introduced me to many people, including Jean, a man who works in the administration building in Nuku Hiva (the main island in the Marquesas). He seemed interested in why I was here, and surprised by the fact that I was traveling alone. Later on, while he was making a speech welcoming the French Marines to the village, he didn’t fail to mention that it was also “very nice to have with us a young Russian girl who now lives in Vancouver, came to study on Tahiti, and is now traveling around the Marquesas.” Let me tell ya, it was humbling being presented like that in front of the town’s population and thirty military guys (and two military girls!). By the time that everybody had said their speeches, the ma’a was ready. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in Polynesia. A variety of fish dishes, uru and banana chips (I’ve never tried home-made banana chips before. They’re amazing; incomparable to store-bought ones.), couscous, and barbecued sausages and fish all filled the tables. After everybody had more-or-less eaten, the girls began their dance performance. They danced beautifully, and at the end of their performance, the MC put on more music, while the girls went around the room and gathered the military guys to dance. After the dancing began, I swear it turned into a Papeete nightclub. The marines had prepared a delicious punch, and the more of it they drank the more amused they became. We danced well into the night, and I had many people come up to me and ask me about Russia or Canada, or both. People tried to recall Russian expressions they knew, some tried to talk English, and I remember a bizarre conversation about Russian soccer players and vodka. When the night was coming to a close, the MC put on a French song which all the guys seemed to know and love. Someone explained to me that it was a song which really speaks to French culture, especially from the region of Bretagne. It kind of reminded me of the way everybody at parties in Russia would begin to sing along to Nautilus’ “Poslednii Parahod” if it came on. Anyways, in the end people got so drunk that they began to slide (in their clothes) on their stomachs across the volleyball court that was near by. Anyways, no matter how silly people got, it still ended up being an awesome evening. When everyone had left, and the guys were brought back to their boat, Eri’s mom and I cleaned up and went home to sleep.

The next day, I was supposed to go to the Protestant mass with the family, but I slept in, and was only awoken for breakfast. I was going to go on a hike with the military guys, as they had invited me the night before. It was really my only chance to do that hike, because almost all the hikes require a guide, and they had one. However, Eri’s family had prepared for us to go to a village on the other side of the island, and I was glad to come with them. I’m not sure I could have kept up with the military guys anyways, haha. We had lunch and spent the day at their family’s house, who live close to a beach that is known for its ‘cailloux fleuris’ – beautiful stones which have an unusual pattern of colors on them. They don’t look like anything impressive when dry, but when you put them in water they become designs of blue and green and dark yellow. I collected a whole bunch, so I’m hoping I have enough space in my luggage to bring them back. We then went back to Eri’s village, where the military guys were just getting back from their hike. Their boat left shortly after, and contrary to the night before, I spent a quiet evening reading and watching movies.

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Today is Monday, and my third day here in Ua Pou. Today was a so-called ‘jour ferier’, which means that it’s a statutory holiday. I woke up early, but still later than everybody else. I had breakfast with Eri’s mom and sister, and then decided to go down to the quay and take some pictures. There was a man there who was fishing with his daughter. He had his snorkel gear on and was using a harpoon to catch the fish. When he got out of the water, we started talking, and he asked me whether I wanted to come watch him fish. I ran back to the house, put on my bathing suit and grabbed my snorkel. The man showed me some of the caves that were around, and I followed him as he skillfully aimed his harpoon and caught various fish. He then handed me the harpoon, which totally caught me off guard. Now, I have never shot anything in my life. It was definitely a first going hunting with the harpoon. Unfortunately, my aim must really suck, because the only thing I caught was a sea urchin, which is like a still target (they’re attached to the rocks) and isn’t much use. I then followed the guy and his daughter around some more, and he began pointing to something under a rock which I really couldn’t differentiate. All of a sudden, he aimed the harpoon and what he caught was a decent-sized octopus, which again caught me off guard. It was so cool to watch how skillfully he handled the octopus and the other fish. We ended up swimming some more, and then Eri called me back to the house. For today, we had a day at the beach planned at La Baie des Requins (Shark’s Bay.)

Shark’s Bay is a few kilometers away from Eri’s village, on a beautiful stretch of sandy beach. The water is all shades of blue, and to the side there are many rocks on which you can find a lot of shellfish when the tide is low. Eri’s, her mom, and Joseph all showed me the different types of shellfish that you can find and eat. I collected pretty shells on the shore, and watched as Eri broke the shells of a special type of edible sea-urchin. She washed its meat in the ocean, and then we all ate the slimy insides. It wasn’t terrible, but I think I again confirmed that most shellfish are not my thing. We had lunch on the beach (‘picniquer’) and then we all went swimming in the bay. Thankfully, it seemed to be one of those days when the sharks which usually inhabit the waters weren’t there. Even if they were, they didn’t come close enough to where we were swimming to be seen. Eri’s boyfriend had come to the beach by pirogue, a special type of Tahitian boat, kind of like a very narrow kayak (kind of reminds me of a ‘baidarka’) with an attachment on the side. Pirogues make up an integral part of Polynesian culture – lots of people regularly practice on the pirogue, and there are often competitions. Anyways, they let me try rowing on the pirogue, which is harder than it looks. I flipped over twice, but succeeded in rowing a bit around the bay. We then went back to the village, and it’s evening now. We just finished dinner, and now Eri and I will go down to the water to watch Joseph and her boyfriend fish. Oh, and, just when I thought that fruit in Polynesia couldn’t get any better, I find out they can. The grapefruits here are sweeter and juicier than in Tahiti, and even though the mango season is pretty much over, here they are still sweet and juicy and wonderful!

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Here I am. Still in Ua Pou. It’s really nice here, I like it. Except, well, I should have packed more books. I don’t really know why I decided to come for 6 days – in hindsight that seems like a lot. Eri’s family is super, but I still kind of feel like a visitor. They’ll hardly let me do my own dishes, and there is still a feeling of distance. Which is quite natural, really, and kind of echoes what I just read in this book called Les Tahitiens, Les Francais. It talks a lot about how Tahitians relate to popa’a (essentially white foreigners), and about how even though they’re super-welcoming, they always hold a certain distance between you and them, always aware of the fact that you are a visitor, someone who is just passing by. I’ve done some other stuff – gone to a store and actually spent money on something for the first time in days, taken a boat trip around the bay that Eri’s village surrounds, seen the other side of the island, on which two small villages are located. We had lunch at Eri’s family’s at one of the villages yesterday. I think my stomach is doing flip-flops because of the food I’ve been eating. My diet basically consists of rice, uru cooked in all ways imaginable, fish, mangoes, and grapefruit, with minor variations.
I think that this trip has once again proved that I am more of a big-city person. I wilt in places where there is nothing dynamic, nothing to hold my attention. Plus there is only so much you can do when you are dependant on others for transportation. That is why, for my next stop in Ua Huka, I’ve decided to stay in the biggest village, which still isn’t really saying much. I don’t know if there is a place to buy books. I shall only be staying there for three nights, and then I am off to Nuka Hiva. I’m staying with Yoyo’s (a really cool woman who works at the Foyer) niece, who was a bit bizarre over the phone, but I guess I’ll just have to see what happens.

surfing (made before I left to marquesas)

No matter how much or how accurately someone describes an experience to you, you will never really appreciate it for what it is unless you feel it yourself. And that is exactly how I feel about surfing. People always say how great and fun it is, but until I really tried it for the first time today I haven’t been able to fully relate. Sebastian, someone we met though Alia by coincidence, took us to Papeno (about 18 km from Papeete) today to surf. I had been on top of a surfboard before, but I had never actually tried to catch a wave and didn’t know much about it. But once we started, it was just so amazing that I never wanted to stop and we ended up spending the whole day at that beach. I didn’t actually stand up on the surfboard (only got as far as going on my knees) but I did make progress through the course of the day. It’s the most amazing thing to glide fast on a wave and then to have to work hard to get back in position to catch another one. It’s also really fun just to lie on top of the surfboard and hang out in the water. You can really appreciate the immense force of water when the waves hit you and you come crashing down. This must be how other people feel about sports that they really enjoy – it’s work, but you are having so much fun that you don’t realize how exhausted you are until the day’s end. When you are in the water and there are tons of people in the same situation as you are, you kind of feel as if you are part of a community. Everybody is there to catch that wave that will bring the sensation of being completely in tune with the wave’s rhythm. People swim by and say hello and do the ‘hang loose’ symbol that is so ubiquitous in Polynesia. Anyways, I was the last one out of the water today, and I cannot wait to go back. As it goes, ‘on a dechire le spot!’ Trip to Tofino, anybody?

On days like this, when I am in the company of good people and having such a super time, I don’t want to leave. I can’t believe I have less than a month left here.

Friday, May 26, 2006


my mom and I in front of a Tiki in Tahiti

trying to study on the beach in Moorea

Hiking to the Fatoua valley (Tahiti) with Kelly and Mom

scenery from Maupiti
Although I’m not making apologies, I realize it must not be fun to read a blog that only gets updated once in a blue moon. I guess that even though I am not extremely busy, I am usually not in my room in front of the computer. Classes have ended, and since my exams are all clustered together, I’ve been kind of studying. For the most part though, I’ve been spending time with my mom, who is here for twelve days, until the 24th. Actually, it is likely that I will post this even after that day.

Right now I am writing from Maupiti, a small island (about 11 square km) in the Society Islands archipelago. It is actually right next door to Bora Bora. People say it’s kind of like a mini Bora, actually, except while Bora caters almost exclusively to tourists, this island is remote and less developed in the way of tourism. After traveling to the Tuamotus (Tikehau and Rangiroa, that it), I’ve realized that less touristy is usually a better option. And wow, am I ever glad I picked for us to go to Maupiti. It is simply gorgeous here, with its clear lagoon and beautiful waters, which come in all shades of blue. We are actually not on Maupiti itself, but on a small (2 square km) motu (a little island) just off the coast of it. We arrived early on Friday, and our sejour (stay) here is sadly very short. We leave Sunday afternoon. Our pension (small hotel), only comprises five bungalows, and there is only another older French couple here besides my mom and I. We are in a private bungalow which sits in the cocotier (palm tree) filled garden, and is only a few of meters from a white-sand stretch of beach and the lagoon. The bungalow is beautiful, decorated with tons of local materials and with a veranda in the front. Breakfast and dinner are included in the price of our stay, and we eat together with the other guests. The food here is delicious and abundant, with lots of fresh fish and fruit. Now I am sitting on the beach, with the lagoon right beside me and the reef a bit further, then vast ocean, and finally a silhouette of Bora’s two mountains. It’s really stunning here.
Today, the quasi-owner of this place, Jean, took us by boat to Maupiti itself. My mom and I decided not to rent bikes but to walk the circumference of the island. We stopped by local artisan workshops and bought necklaces and hand-painted cards; we ate delicious grilled fish in Roquefort sauce at the snack; we walked around and looked at the grapefruit trees and bright flowers. And, again, the kindness of Polynesian people never fails to amaze me. Everybody on the street says hello, people are eager to help, you don’t even need to hitchhike to get places because families will offer you rides on the back of their trucks. This is a refreshing change from Papeete, in which people are still super-friendly, but they have already got more of that big city attitude.

Since mom’s arrived to Tahiti, I have actually done more on the island than I have during my whole stay here. We did a tour of Moorea by bike, which didn’t go as well as planned but turned out good in the end. We rented a car (a whole other story) for three days and did a tour of Tahiti, stopping by several touristy spots but also some hidden treasures. Kelly, mom, and I also went on a hike to the Fatoua Valley. It was a grueling two hours to get to the waterfalls and their basins, but it was really rewarding to swim in the cold, fresh water before starting the walk down. Tahiti has some really beautiful areas, it’s a shame that public transportation is so badly developed that you can’t get to many of them without a car. And it’s been really nice to have my mom here and to share with her what life is like here for me. It’s nice to live somewhere for so long that you get to know intimately that place’s streets and good restaurants and things like that. I feel lucky that I’ve been here long enough now that I feel like if somebody visits, I can really show them more than a ‘regular’ tourist would see. In my opinion, that’s the best way to travel.

Oh, and I can’t believe that, in my food entry I did not mention how much fish I have been eating. Now, those who know me well know that I am not a good sushi companion and that I usually go for the veggie rolls. I promise when I come back I will come back a changed lady! I have gotten so into tuna carpaccio, tartar, poisson cru (a raw fish salad made with coconut milk or ginger), and sashimi. Yum! I also love grilled Mahi Mahi (Dorado in English, apparently, but I have no idea what that is), Meka, Saumon des Dieux (local salmon)… I hope fish in Vancouver is this good; I fear that I have been spoiled rotten by local fish and that I will come back disappointed with what I find!

It’s kind of funny how time travels here. Even though I am not busy, I cannot believe that I have already been here since late February and that I have less than a month left in Polynesia. Quite honestly, I miss Vancouver a lot but a part of me would be tempted to stay if given the chance. I still haven’t fully decided what I will do during the month of June, but whatever it is I hope it involves lots of travel! Nana, everybody! Please keep e-mailing – I know I don’t write back quick but I sure do appreciate hearing from you!

p.s. the sky at night on this island is magnificent. I have never seen this many bright stars all at once. oh, and, I have had the best sleep since I’ve gotten to Tahiti right here in the bungalow.

Friday, April 21, 2006

pics of people








Huahine

Since last weekend was Easter and we had a few days off school, a friend at the Foyer (Tehiheo) suggested we go to the island of Huahine, which is a bit less than 200 km away from Tahiti, and still in the same group of the so-called Society Islands. After the trip was organized, there ended up being seven of us who went – me, Alia, Heather, Tehiheo, Karen, Carole (one of the ‘responsables’ at the Foyer), and Hinatea. We all were lucky enough to stay at Hinatea’s house, who grew up in Huahine, but who now goes to school in Tahiti and stays at the Foyer. This is actually the case with a lot of girls from the foyer; since a lot of islands don’t have a ‘lycee’ (high-school), girls have to either go to the closest island with a lycee or come to Tahiti. Anyways, Alia and I had a flight which arrived a day earlier than the other girls, so we ended up getting into Huahine Tuesday morning. Pascale, Hinatea’s father, picked us up and drove us to the house. Huahine is divided into two parts (much in the same way Tahiti is) – there is Huahine Nui (nui = big) and Huahine Iti (iti = small), which are joined by a small bridge.
Hinatea’s house is in Parae, on Huahine Iti, on a gorgeous stretch of beach surrounded by tons of palm, ma’ape, and tiare trees. Their house is simple but comfortable, and the only shower they have is an outdoor one. I actually loved the outdoor shower because you have a curtain on one side of you, but in every other direction that you turn there are huge plants and palm leaves and other greenery. Pretty much as soon as Alia and I got there we went swimming because the water everywhere in the South Pacific is SO WARM. Now, Huahine is very different from the Tuamotus, and luckily for me, there were no sharks or rays swimming close to shore, so I felt a lot calmer while swimming. The sandy bottom, here, however is filled with sea cucumbers, which are weird and gross, and when you step on them it feels like stepping on oil. Later on that day, Alia and I went for a walk along the beach to check out some of the pensions that were there. There are some really gorgeous pensions along the beach, but of course, prices are quite high. Later that evening, we met Bridgitte (Hinatea’s mom), and her daughter-in-law, Raewana. Raewana invited us to go over to the neighboring village of Haapu to watch a dance rehearsal that they were having.
Now I must interrupt here and explain a few things. Every July, on all the islands of French Polynesia, there is a huge festival that happens called the Heiva. There are lots of dance performances, parties, kind of like a local Mardi Gras, I guess. Anyways, everyone is encouraging me to stay here for July, because they assure me that it would be a shame to leave Polynesia without seeing it. Huahine is divided into eight districts, all of which will dance in the Heiva, and the best of which will win a prize. Practice for the Heiva has already begun in Haapu, and Raewana is one of women who is participating. The course is lead by her ‘sister’, whose name I’m not sure of, but who is a rae-rae. And here is interruption number two: the rae-raes. French Polynesia has a most interesting (and progressive) perspective on sexuality. Rae-raes are basically people who are biologically male but who have many feminine features, or who endorse them. For example, many rae-raes have longer hair, wear high heels, carry purses, etc. You can still tell quite easily a rae-rae from a girl, and as I understand it, some have had operations but most have not. There are legends about the existence of rae-raes in this region, but the really cool thing is that they are treated with equality, from what I can tell. Rae-raes are often sales clerks, waiters, classmates, and although it might be a little weird at first for tourists, locals are quite accepting of rae-raes. I don’t think an employer in Canada would be as keen on hiring a cross-dresser to work at a restaurant as employers seem to be here. I guess the major difference between a rae-rae and a cross-dresser is that I think in most parts of the world, cross-dressing is one of those things that is kept in very private sphere of someone’s life. People often talk of cross-dressers as leading a ‘double-life’ and things like that, but here it seems completely different. Anyways, I find it really progressive, although I’m suuuure there are those who beg to differ.
To continue, the dance rehearsal which we went to, was taught by a rae-rae who moved so amazingly, I couldn’t even believe it. I wish I could dance like that; she was a really beautiful dancer. The troupe consists of maybe forty girls, but the number who will actually dance in the Heiva is much less, because many girls will be asked to join the singing group if they don’t lose weight. It’s really harsh, but I guess not everyone looks good in a grass skirt and a bikini top up on stage. Tahitian dance is very cool, and the way the girls move is really incredible. There is a lot of bum shaking involved, and the end result is a really beautiful. The rehearsal ended up going for two hours, and I really enjoyed watching it, since it was the first time I was seeing Tahitian dance. I had seen something similar with my Dad in Hawaii, but this is still different.
The next day the rest of the girls arrived and we ate a big, delicious dinner, cooked by Bridgitte. On Friday we didn’t do much except lounge, swim and take walks along the beach. Heather and Alia and I also went snorkeling, since Kelly was nice enough to lend me her snorkel gear for the trip. There is a lot of corral not too far from the shore, and the variety of fish there is amazing. You could literally spend hours swimming around, and the fish couldn’t care less that you’re there. We also swam to a dock, which was part of one of the pensions, and which you could jump off of. On Saturday, Bridgitte and Pascal got a hold of a boat, which we took to a nearby motu. I spent that whole day on the motu, swimming around and snorkeling, while many of the others went fishing and collected shells and crabs to eat. The motu is constructed in such a way that there is a shallow lagoon around it, corral follows, and then it gets more and more shallow until you hit a wall of reef which creates a reef break, and waves crash against it. You can actually walk around on that part of the reef (although it’s still almost entirely covered with water) and collect shells and look at neat corral. So when Heather and I got bored of snorkeling, we decided to make our way to the reef break. Note: if any time you are in the South Pacific and decide that it would be fun to wander off alone and make your way through the corral, don’t do it! Or at least go with someone who’s experienced. I was wearing flip flops, but corral is sharp and it is easy to slip. By the time that Heather and I had somehow made it to the reef break, we were damning everything to hell and our feet and legs had numerous cuts from the corral. We ended up walking towards Karen, who was already there, and who lead us back to the beach. Of course, she took a different route and was a lot smarter than we were, but I guess that that’s what you get from growing up with this kind of environment. Oh, and, weirdest thing ever. When I got back to the beach, Pascal took out a can of Vick’s VapoRub and got me to put it on the parts of my feet that were cut. Apparently it prevents infection!
When we got back from the motu, we ended up having dinner with the fish they had caught (yum!) and rice and uru. At night, friends of Pascal and Bridgitte came over and sang song with their little guitars (sort of like a ‘balalaika’). The next afternoon we ended up making reservations for Heather and Alia to go scuba diving, and afterwards went on a tour of the island. Pascal drove us around in his 4x4 and showed us Huahine Iti and Nui. We saw lots of beautiful scenery and cool things, like the ‘maraes’, which are archeological sites that are ancient ceremonial sites where Polynesians performed all kinds of rituals and made human and animal sacrifices. We also went to the village of Faie, which is like any other village except that it has this little river (well, not even a river, it just kind of like a watering hole in which the water is very shallow) and when you look down from the bridge you see the famous blue-eyed eels which live there. To the residents of the village, the eels are sacred, and every day residents come by with food and feed the eels. There are maybe 20-25 eels, and they are all very close to each other and it looks really freaky. Karen actually bought canned fish and fed the eels, and tried to pet them. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.
So, on Monday, Alia and Heather and I decided to hitch-hike from Hinatea’s house over to Fare, which is the main town on Huahine Nui. Although there were not many cars (it was Easter Monday), we ended up getting a ride and making it on time for the scuba diving at 8:30 a.m. The boat took us out a bit past the lagoon, and while Alia and Heather did their dive, I was left alone of the boat. I snorkeled around the boat a bit, but it is much too deep to really see any fish with the same clarity that you do in a lagoon. After the dive, we ended up walking around Fare (not too exciting; it’s basically one street with several shops, most of which were closed) and having lunch at a cute café by the beach. The lady who gave us a ride back to Hinatea’s ended up being really nice and actually took the long way back to show us more of the island. We got back to the house and Heather had to pack right away because her flight was leaving later that evening. Alia and I packed for the next morning, watched TV with the other girls, and crashed around midnight.
In the morning, Pascal and Bridgitte drove us to the airport and handed us shell necklaces and a little package of vanilla from Huahine. Everything in Huahine was really awesome, and no one had the desire to go back to the Foyer. I’m really glad I ended up coming the island. Staying with a Tahitian family was a great cultural experience, not to mention all the money I saved in hotel costs. Bridgitte and Pascal are a most welcoming couple, and I hope I’ll get to see them again someday. And now I am back at Foyer, finishing up this entry because I’m heading into town really soon. Mm, time for lunch now! À bientôt!

One more thing: I think I must have done something great in another life to deserve the friends I have. Three letters in one day! I miss you guys a lot, the letters really cheered me up.

Piccaroos






A bite on food.


As much as I don’t like the Foyer, there are things about being here that are really great. The girls I have gotten to know are really cool, and many take pity in my inability to cook and share lunch, dinner, etc. We usually end up making communal meals where two or three girls end up making a dinner. Last week, Kelly and I made steamed carrots, sweet potatoes, and taro in a steamer which you use over a pan. Steamed sweet potatoes are seriously awesome, and it’s kind of sad that it’s only the first time I’ve tried them. Alia taught me how to make tea with fresh mint, which is a cheap, yummy tea option. Laurence, who is here from French doing her ‘stage’ (internship), always cooks yummy, healthy things. For tonight’s meal, I ended up cooking rice (I made rice by myself for the first time, with a little help from the girls!) and boiling carrots, while Laurence made an awesome pear and chocolate pie for dessert. It’s the first real tarte that I’ve had since getting here, and yum yum yum. It kind of makes me want to know how to cook yummy things like that and how to cook traditional Russian food (mom, maybe I can actually learn a thing or two after I get back). After finishing dinner, Kelly, Heather, Laurence, and I all ended up sitting in the kitchen while drinking mint tea and munching on tarte. Laurence taught us how to play Tarot, which is a card game which is popular in both France and Tahiti but uses a different deck than normal and is more strategic than most other card games.
Also, this Sunday morning Laurence and I made our way to the market and bought tons of fruit and veggies that we shared because things are normally sold in bigger quantities, or you can get better deals if you buy more. Sunday is generally a good day to go to the market, because vendors from other islands and from other parts of Tahiti come to sell their produce, and selection is better and things are usually cheaper. The only thing is that, like everything in Tahiti, the market closes very early on Sunday, so you can only go between 5 and 8 am. But, if you really want better selection and prices, going on Sunday is worth it, and it’s usually fun if you can go with friends and look at all the various fruit, veggies, and home-made dishes that people are selling. Oh, and one thing I will surely miss when I leave here are Tahitian grapefruit. They are these amazingly juicy, big green things with an awesome tangy taste. They’re probably something between a grapefruit and a pomello. I bet I could eat one every day for a really long time. And I’ve also tried a bunch of other fruit here that I never have, like carrousole (not sure if I’m spelling that right; pointy green thing with a soft inside), ramboutans (semi-lychee; better, in my opinion), fresh coconut water, logan-like fruit, several varieties of banana and mango, carambole (starfruit, I think), etc. And have I mentioned the amazing pineapples, which are a lot better and sweeter than the ones you get in Vancouver. And soft, ripe papayas for breakfast. Wow, I could go on and on about fruit.

Note: one other thing I’ve realized is that half the fun of food is sharing it. it’s just like that.

p.s. the picture is of when we ate uru and corned beef in Rangiroa

Friday, April 07, 2006









tikehau is pretty!!!

adventures a la moi

“toute dou, toute dou, toute doucement
tousjours tout dou, tout doucement,
comme ca la vie je la comprends!”

Okay, admittedly I am not the best at updating blogs. But then again, with all that has gone on, I haven’t had a chance to go to an internet café and use my laptop to update. I only have internet access on one of the 8 computers available in school, which you have to reserve ahead to use aaaand which have a French keyboard, which explains my many spelling and punctuation errors in emails.

Disclaimer: this one is pretty long and if you don’t want to read it all I understand. The contents are roughly:
-Wallet story
-Tikehau
-Rangiroa

First thing that happened: so maybe a week and a half after I get to the Foyer, things seem to be going okay. Only one can of tuna stolen so far. One evening I come from the grocery store and decide to phone my dad. We end up taking for a while and then I go back to my room from the little phone stand that is maybe two meters away from my room. A few hours later, Alia and I decide to go hang out outside the UB40 (haha, they came here) concert. I start searching for my wallet but after nooo apparent success I ask around and figure out that a few girls had seen it on the phone stand. Yep, I was stupid enough to leave my wallet behind in a foreign country not even two weeks after I get there. With, of course, all my credit cards and money inside. And of course it gets stolen. Since this was vacation time, and there were only maybe 20 girls at the Foyer, I madly start to knock on every girl’s room asking whether they had seen the wallet. No dice. The staff at the Foyer wasn’t very helpful at first, but the next day decided to call a general meeting for everyone who was at the Foyer the night before. By this time I had contacted my Dad and gotten him to cancel my credit card and bank card.
Aside: no matter what country you are in, one thing you never want to be doing is dealing with the police. Going to the police, though, seemed like a good idea, so I announced at the meeting that I would go to the station that night. As we are standing at the police station waiting for an officer to help us, the cellphone of one of the girls I was with rings. The Foyer is calling to let her know that the wallet has been found in the second floor bathroom (I live on the first floor). We race back to the foyer and find out that one of the Canadian girls who is here, Heather, had noticed the wallet at the back of the washrooms, with the money missing and the credit card and bank card discarded a few feet away. This all ended up being a really big relief, except that I still had no money, or access to it. Because no one had actually confessed to the crime, the staff at the Foyer encouraged me to go to the police and file a report. The next day, I went to the police and filed a report, at which point they took my wallet and cards to be fingerprinted. They said that the wallet would be ready in the next couple of days. Before I had a chance to go back to the police and find out whether the wallet had any fingerprints they could work with, Windy, an acquaintance, comes to me and says that someone had confessed to her and would like to speak to me. A few moments later there is a knock on my door and the woman who actually stole my wallet is standing before me and we go to talk. Her whole apology to me was a load of crap, or so it seemed to me. She is in her 30s, and has lots of money problems. Of course, she had already spent the money that was in my wallet (only about $50 bucks) and did not have any to return to me. And, of course, by this time the cards were cancelled and I was left with no means.

This crazy story also developed days before spring break, during which I had made plans to travel to the Tuamotu Islands with Kelly, a girl from the UBC Okanogan campus, who has been here since September. So I borrowed money from the Foyer for the trip and we ended up going to the Islands for 11 nights. We first flew to the island of Tikehau, population 400 (that’s like a first-year econ class at ubc!). The airport is tiny, and all the flight schedules are written on a blackboard. Kelly had her tent with her, and we had reserved a spot at a little Pension (something in between a hostel and a hotel.) Since March isn’t exactly tourist season, there were not a lot of people at the Pension. We set up camp on the beach and went swimming almost right away. The water is super-clear (the scenery on this island is like a postcard; doesn’t compare to anything I’ve seen in Tahiti) and snorkeling here is magnificent. So Kelly goes snorkeling and finds some pretty coral near the shore. Since I don’t have my own snorkeling gear, Kelly and I took turns with hers. I decide to go near the coral on my own and just as I am swimming around, looking at all the beeeeeautiful fish, I see something out of the corner of my eye. I turn to my right, and about a foot away from me there is a black-tipped shark swimming by. The fact that I was completely not expecting to encounter a shark this close to shore and that I am really freaking afraid of sharks (movie stigma, I know) made me start to hyperventilate in the water. I swam to Kelly and completely freaked out. She explained that black-tipped sharks aren’t dangerous, and that sharks here are mostly small (the one I saw was 3-4 feet) and that there’s like never been a shark attack in Polynesia, but I don’t think you’re very rational when you’re scared. So anyways, for the rest of my time in Tikehau, I was super-scared to swim at the beach of the pension. The really cool thing, though, is being able to see sharks, stingrays, fish, octopus (what’s the plural form of octopus?), and all kinds of other neat sea-things in their natural habitat. It’s really much cooler than at an aquarium or at a feeding site.
By the time we had settled into the tent, it had started raining on the island. The lady who owns the pension, Justine, suggested that we stay in a bungalow instead of the tent, and told us that we could have a bungalow for the same price as camping (what an awesome deal, Kelly and I were super-glad to have a bungalow). Breakfast was also included in the price of camping but in Polynesia the idea of breakfast is not at all the same as it is for the Holiday Inn. Breakfast consists of instant coffee, powdered milk, sugar, some baguettes, butter and jam.
The next day Kelly and I decided to explore the island. So, if you aim for shopping, Tikehau isn’t your destination. The island has two “grocery” stores (they are both half the size of a Seven-11), one bakery (which is unrecognizable to anyone who isn’t local), and one “snack” (local eateries are called snacks, in Russian a ‘zabegalovka’). The grocery stores are basically empty most of the time. Aside from some canned and packaged goods, which look like they have been there from a previous decade, all we could find in the way of produce were some shabby-looking garlic and onions. And, everything is more expensive than in Tahiti, which I couldn’t believe. I mean, it makes sense since Tikehau is so remote, and it is difficult to ship there and demand is probably not particularly strong. But prices in Tahiti are so insane that it is hard to imagine that they could go any higher. Kelly and I couldn’t even get our hands on beer for most of the trip because the stores were sold out. The bakery turned out to be pretty cheap and tasty, although the only things you can buy are baguettes or coconut bread. The snack, however, was a pleasant surprise. We ate there twice, and both times the food was delicious and the prices were a bit less than in Tahiti. The hours that all these places are open are also bizarre, so you really have to time things right in order to actually be able to get what you want.
We also were fortunate enough to meet a girl, Ervelyne (Erv), and her friend Melody, on the first day we got to the island. Erv is originally from Tikehau, but now lives in Minnesota and works as a translator for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ (although her view of religion is not at all what you would think for someone who is so involved with the church; she has one of the most refreshing perspectives I’ve heard in a long time). Melody is also involved with the church, and she is really kind, although she found it hard at times because she does not know French at all. Erv is vibrant and friendly, and really helped Kelly and I make the most of our stay on the island. We went on nighttime bike rides to local beaches and to the quay to watch manta rays, although we unfortunately didn’t end up seeing any clearly on the nights we went. She told us about a giant free meal that the Catholic Church was organizing for the whole population of Tikehau in honor of the visit of the French Polynesian arch-bishop to the island. When we got to the meal, people quickly found us a spot and we feasted on delicious maa (food) tahitien, which was cooked over a fire. A giant pig was roasted, and as sides there were poisson cru (delicious raw fish salad), po’e (specially prepared banana and papaya), salade Russe (I’m not sure what’s Russian about it, but it’s still pretty good), a variety of seafood, uru (breadfruit), other tahitian specialties, and coconuts were handed out so that you could drink fresh coconut milk. In other words, this was by far the most traditional meal I’ve had since I’ve gotten here, and it was by far the most complete meal Kelly and I had during the trip. Anyways, one night Erv, her mother, her mother’s friend, Melody, Kelly, and I also made a trip to the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, which is located on a separate motu (small island). You can only get there by boat, so we took the same boat which transports the staff to the resort for the evening and came back with the staff when they were done with their shifts. The Resort is gorgeous, with pilotiers (over-water bungalows) and regular bungalows and beautiful décor. We had drinks at the bar (they also had uru chips as snacks – best things ever.) and then dinner at the restaurant. The prices were really outrageous, though, so Kelly and I just shared a portion of poisson cru, which we custom-ordered, since it wasn’t on the menu that night. Anyways, everything was marvelous, and at the end Erv’s mom and her friend ended up paying for dinner, which was incredibly nice (more on this later).
Another thing we ended up doing with Erv and Melody was going out to the ocean with a group called the Raie Manta Club to scuba dive. Well, the first time they went I just went along for the ride and snorkeled around (although I was still incredibly cautious of sharks and other intimidating sea-creatures). Erv is completely addicted to scuba diving, and must have gone about eight times during her time on the island. Kelly also loves scuba diving, but has had problems equalizing her ears for a while, so she wasn’t sure whether she would be able to complete her dive or not. Luckily, things worked out, and she ended up diving something like five times during our whole trip, although her ears would remain blocked for days after. I was kind of on-the-fence about trying diving, but since the people at Raie Manta Club were really trustworthy and offered Kelly and I the “locals” price, I decided to give it a go. I knew that if I came back to Papeete without having tried it at least once, I would have regretted it for a long time after. The Tuamotus, especially Rangiroa, are known as scuba diving Meccas, by the way. So, I had my “bateme” (“baptism”) in Tikehau in the pass, which is the space of water between two motus. It’s actually unusual to have a bateme in a pass, since most people start off with at a lagoon or even an aquarium, where there is not a lot of variety of sea life and the depth is minimal. I descended with Sebastian, a French instructor who was really great and probably should have been paid double for all the time that he spent putting up with me, haha. Anyways, I was under water for fourty-two minutes (the max you can go is forty-five minutes) at a depth of about nine meters, and let me tell ya, it was really amazing. I saw such a variety of fish and coral and pretty sea-things that the forty-two minutes seemed to pass by like five. Sebastian pointed out really cool things like stone-fish and Moorea eels (those frightening ones which were guardians of Ursula in The Little Mermaid), and Napoleon Fish (so weird looking), and pilot fish, and all sorts of awesome coral formations. I didn’t even see any sharks, which made me that much less freaked out! Anyways, scuba diving is really cool, and I recommend it to anyone who gets a chance to try it out.
Anyways, we spent the rest of our time at Tikehau relaxing, hanging out with Erv and Melody, and biking around the island. Justine also let us take the bikes for free, although campers usually have to pay for them. When Kelly and I did a tour of the island, we saw a ton of incredible places – beautiful forests made of palm trees, volcanic rock formations sticking out of the water, pools of warm water followed by reef with crashing waves, tons of spots that look a million times better than postcards. We just biked around and stopped wherever we liked and swam whenever we got too hot. I really think Tikehau is magical, and it was kind of nice being practically the only tourists on the island and really feeling like you are on the edge of the world. It’s hard to imagine that people actually spend their lives on this little piece of land and form their lives here. Anyways, if you are ever in the area…

After that, we had a twenty-minute flight to Rangiroa, an island which seemed like a near-city compared to the previous, although the population is still only about 2000. We were staying at the cheapest place we could find, which was a cute pension called Rangiroa Lodge. Since the beach there is all coral, it’s too difficult to camp if you don’t have mats to put on the ground. Kelly and I decided to stay in the “dortoirs” (dorm-style rooms). Our room had three beds, and the girl who occupied the third turned out to be this lively, friendly French girl Armelle who is the middle of traveling the world for ten months. We had dinner with some of the other girls from the Pension, since there is a nice outdoor kitchen at the Lodge. The next day Kelly decided to go scuba diving, but this time with a company called the Six Passengers. Some other girls from the pension ended up going, and I and another girl tagged along on the boat and snorkeled around, although the water is less clear is the pass than it was in Tikehau. Plus, Rangiroa is famous for its abundance of tiger sharks, so I was really careful. The boat that this club used was a lot less sturdy (well, this one was made out of rubber) than the one Raie Manta did. On the way there and back, I was convinced I would fall out on the waves. Anyways, then the guy who was driving the boat and I and the other girl went and circled around the area a bit. He started pointing to something and just a few meters away I saw a group of about five dolphins. I didn’t even know dolphins were in the region, so I was really surprised. It was amazing to see dolphins so close by and, again, in their natural habitat. After Kelly’s dive, we came back to the office of the Six Passengers and hung out for a while. The guys who run the place offered us to have lunch, so we stayed there while they cooked uru over a fire they made on the beach. We ate off huge leaves of a nearby tree and complemented the uru with some corned beef. The taste of uru cooked over a fire is amazing, and that simple meal is probably one of the best that I’ve had since I’ve gotten here. And that actually brings me to another point, which is that Tahitian people are some of the most hospitable that I’ve met while traveling. If you ever need directions, if you’re doing the ‘stop’ (hitchhiking), or if people just get the sense that you need help, they are always willing to offer whatever they can. There have been so many amazing people that have helped me out while I’ve been here – it’s really made my stay that much more enjoyable.
The rest of our days at Rangiroa were spent just chilling out on the beach and doing small trips to the winery (I don’t know why you would grow wine in the South Pacific; I think it’s more novelty than actual good wine, although the one I sampled was allright), the pearl farm (much more boring than it seems), and bike rides around the island. The only downside to the trip was that as we got to Rangiroa, my skin seemed to react badly to something (I later found out it was to the rain water that they use everywhere) so I had to spend the second half of the trip not being able to swim because my hands and feet hurt too much when exposed to the salt water. Otherwise, I had an amazing time traveling around the islands, and I definitely didn’t want to go back to Tahiti and to the Foyer.
So, I’m finishing this up by at a café in downtown Papeete, where Alia and I just finished having a coffee. Alia is saying hello to you all, and I am sending bisous (kisses) because I miss you guys tons. Joanne phoned last night – it was great to hear her voice! I hope everybody is well and that Vancouver weather is not getting you guys down too much (that’s definitely one thing I don’t miss – I love the sun and never having to wear long sleeves or jackets, hehehehehe.)

ode to not saying goodbye

You step a little closer each day…

It’s completely not enough. And maybe it can never be, although that’s no consolation. Thinking of all the things you should and shouldn’t have done, said, asked, questioned. And it’s funny how when things come down to it, all you wish you had is more time. Eighteen years of knowing of someone but only having moments for a fraction of those years is so little, much less than what I wanted and needed. I wish distance was just a made up concept, I wish I could jump continents, oceans and hug you and say goodbye and I wish I could make more moments out of space. I wish I could remember more, say more, understand more. I wish I could be closer and know better. I wish I could do more than just wish.

Written on April 3rd, 2006 In Loving Memory of Dedushka Vova.

Monday, March 27, 2006

oy oy oy this is due for a major update. i am at school, though, and the keyboard is french and all the letters are in different spots. yeesh.

i have an exam on wednesday but after that i hope to actually write about all thats gone on and of all the travelling that ive done.

i hope all is swell in vancouver and that you are all booking airline tickets here.

mauuruu!

Monday, March 06, 2006

address:

Foyer de Paofai
Boîte Postale: 1719
98713 Papeete
Tahiti, French Polynesia

write to me! a prize to whoever sends me the first letter ;)

p.s. i really miss where you are
I’ve been meaning to write in here for a while. It’s only Thursday, my fourth day here. So far, I feel pretty productive but also really lost at some points (at a lot of points, actually).

So, I arrived on Monday morning. The Foyer Des Jeunes Filles de Paofai is a pretty interesting place. It’s a residence five floors high, and I am on the first. I am in single room, which I’m pretty happy about. I think it was different when I went to Nova Scotia, where I was really happy to have Amanda going through everything with me. There are a few funny things I should mention right off the bat. Water is heated by the sun’s energy, so there is little hot water in the mornings and sometimes at night. Which seemed horrible at first, but then you realize that you’re in Tahiti and you really don’t need hot water. I end up taking something like four showers a day (you get reaaaaaaallly sweaty), during none of which I ever want to touch the hot water tap. Also, the food issue. By the rules you are not allowed to keep food in your room because they don’t want bugs to become a problem. So, the only way to keep your food is in the kitchen on the third floor. The problem is that there are two fridges, and food gets stolen out of both all the time. Just this week, Heather, the girl who is also from UBC, had both a carton of milk and pineapple juice stolen. I am just waiting for my turn… So what ends up happening is that people keep food in their rooms (well, everything that won’t go rotten without a refrigerator), but it is usually locked away from view of the people who work here. That’s what I do, and it’s working out allright. Bugs are kind of a problem, especially cockroaches. They like to hang out at the residence and drop into rooms. It’s so disgusting. I think I can handle everything else, but ewwwwww bugs.

On my first day, I unpacked a bit and then waited to go to the university with this girl Alia. Alia is from Switzerland, and she has only been here a week and a bit. She’s studying to be a teacher, and she is a really great girl. We kind of have the same sense of humor () so we get along quite well. Anyways, she took me to the university, which is maybe a 15-20 minute “truck” (the local bus) ride. The problem is that the university sits on top of a mountain and most of the trucks stop you at the base. There is only one truck per hour which goes right to the university, and I really don’t feel like waiting for it. So walking it is. It is maybe a kilometer walk uphill, with nothing really carved out for pedestrians, so you really have to watch for cars. It’s incredibly hot, and by the time you get to the university you are sweaty and gross. The university is small (only 2500 people or something) but the campus is pretty and very open. The system here works in a really weird way, registration is difficult, and you can’t take classes from more than one area (“filiale”), although they do make exceptions for exchange students. So far it looks like I will be taking two French Literature courses and one contemporary history (focused on decolonization) course.

If I could use one word to describe Tahiti at this point it would be primitive. Not in a bad way, though. There is some charm in exploring a new city and all its quirks. There is also a charm in not being in a city which is proliferated by technology and whose customs, people and language you are still perplexed by. Most of the people here are incredible friendly and have been trying to help me when they can. My French is okay, but I don’t think it’s really improved since I’ve gotten here. The transition from English to French was easy, and I still do end up speaking a lot of English with some of the other girls who are here.

Well, this isn’t even half of it… but time is of the essence.

15. Ask stupid questions. Growth is fueled by desire and innocence. Assess the answer, not the question. Imagine learning throughout your life at the rate of an infant.
If time is my vessel
Then learning to love
Might be my way back to sea


So, here I am at LAX. Wow, I hope this airport doesn’t represent the rest of LA, because I would most definitely be disappointed. You know that feeling when you know something’s happening but that feeling of realization hasn’t actually hit you? That’s kinda how I feel. This trip has barely begun but I already feel as if I have been on a roller coaster with the whole visa issue.

I’m trying not to do that whole thing where you go back to the past and go “ahhh, that makes sense” now that things changed. Double meanings?

Here’s the blog (I’m surprised Word still underlines the word ‘blog’ in a red squiggly.). Impressed? Actually, it’s just a word doc for now, but it will be in internet space (space?) at some point.

My flight to Tahiti is delayed, of course. Only about half an hour at this point, but I am still annoyed with having to wait. I feel like I have been waiting since the end of last month. This airport is getting really cold, so I’m thinking of a trip to Starbucks. Tall two-pump soy no water tazo chai? (jo, you can do it.) I’m kind of sick, no?

Honey was fun. ;) I have really really awesome friends. I’m so glad that Zhenya flirted our way out of that parking lot! I’m glad all my sorrows are gone, haha. Yours came back the morning after?

p.s. To anyone who’s ever heard, translated, made music from a noise, a word, a moan, a color, a moment. To anyone who can beatmatch, create new sounds, challenge eardrums. To anyone who has made several songs sound as one, who has taken one song and made it into several, and who is marching to a self-created beat of their own drum. Thank you.

33. Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic–simulated environment.