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  • Day28

    Feb 18 - Taha'a & Motu Mahana

    February 18, 2020 in French Polynesia ⋅ 🌙 24 °C

    Today we arrived about 8:00 a.m. at Taha’a, known as the Vanilla Island. 75% of all the vanilla grown in French Polynesia comes from this small island and its population of just 5,000.

    Our plan had been to go on a Cultural Tour of the island. However, 5 minutes before we were scheduled to get on board the tender to go to the island, it was painfully obvious that Doug was circling the drain - again. We had set sail about 6:00 p.m. last night and by 7:00 p.m., just when he was in the middle of a good steak, he had to get to the cabin and lie down. He was still not right this morning - even the very gentle movement of the boat on open water is bothering his equilibrium and making him head achy.

    He went back to the cabin and I went on the tour. Now, it’s a really, really good thing that he did NOT go on the tour. Our mode of transport - a converted potato-carrying truck known as “Le Truck”. No shock absorbers - all sideways seats - hot - noisy. Yikes, Doug would have been loony - me too, for that matter.

    Off we went on the one and only road on the island - the road follows the shoreline. We stopped at a coconut planation where Maurice, our guide, told us about the importance of coconuts to the economy of the island. Coconuts are harvested and sold to the government who pay a hefty premium over going rates just so that people can continue to live on their native land. Coconuts are used for coconut oil (cosmetics), coconut meat (for baking and snacking), coconut milk (very trendy these days) and for serving fancy drinks in. The coconut tree leaves are used for making mats and room dividers and roofs for the little vacation bungalows that are very popular here. The husks are used for compost. The tree trunks are used for lumber. Nothing gets wasted.

    Next stop was a vanilla planation - one of 342 on the island. This plantation has 600 vanilla plants. Vanilla plants were imported from Mexico where the hummingbird does the pollination. No hummingbirds here and no other birds that are vaguely interested in the flower of the vanilla plant. So, during the one hour that the plant is open (usually 5-6 a.m.) each flower must be manually pollinated. Once pollinated, the flower sets a pod that looks like a big green bean. After 9 months, the bean is harvested. For one hour a day for three months, the pods are put in the sun to gradually reduce their water content. Then they are sorted into prime quality beans which can be sold “as is” or secondary quality beans (deformed, too skinny) which get ground up for powdered vanilla. See why pure vanilla costs so much???

    Our last stop was at a pearl farm. Here, Maurice showed us how each two-year old oyster has a round nucleus (made from the shells of Mississippi River crabs) inserted into its male sac along with a tiny bit of coloured nacre (mother of pearl). After 18-24 months, the nucleus has had many layers of nacre deposited on it, yielding a pearl - the colours range from dark green to grey to peacock coloured to almost black. Naturally, there was a huge selection of jewelry from which to choose. I have lovely white pearls that Doug gave me, so I waited patiently while others shopped.

    We climbed on a “beacher” - a covered flat bottom boat. After a 20-minute ride at about 12:15 p.m., it delivered us to Motu Mahana - Paul Gauguin Cruises’ private islet. There, to my delight, was Doug - enjoying the sunshine and good old terra firma - he had come over on the 10:15 a.m. beacher and had been happily reading since then. After I had abandoned him, he had consulted with the doctor who told him to just hang in there and keep taking the tablets he had given him. Doug figured his best strategy was to simply get OFF the boat.

    The motu was awash with activity - kayaking, beach volleyball, snorkelling, jet skiing, handicraft demonstrations and live music. The place had washrooms, beach chairs, covered picnic tables, a giant bar, a floating bar (right in the water) and a huge lunch/bbq centre. Doug and I both scarfed down salad, a hamburger and some brownies and cookies. That hit the spot. We swam for a while in the clear salty water and then tried our hand at kayaking (we stank) and then we just found some shade and read. Finally, a relaxing, enjoyable afternoon for both of us. We took one of the last shuttles back - we wanted to avoid the wedding party crowd who had been drinking (noisily) since 10:30 a.m. - they seemed determined to stay in the water with their drinks until the very last shuttle. We would have been deaf if we had had to share a beacher with them.

    We have just set sail for Bora Bora - it’s supposed to be the most beautiful of all the islands in French Polynesia. I think we are going to find another beach and repeat what we did this afternoon.

    Because we have found that Doug doesn't handle the motion of the boat while he is sitting bolt upright, we opted for room service for dinner. It was lovely - the food was hot and tasty and we were able to lounge around in the soft white housecoats provided. We'll be sailing during dinner time on Thursday and Friday - might be more room service performances!
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    You bringing any vanilla back? You wont' find anything like it here! great for baking.... poor Doug :(