When we are back in Papeete, we go towards the industrial harbour. This is where we find our next boat, a cargo which also takes some passengers on its bridge, the Havaikinui. Its circuit goes to Raiatea, Euahine and Bora Bora. Boaring at 4pm, arrival in Raiatea at 4am. Our eyes are still glued together but the navigation was fine. The sea was calm and the wind cooled us down nicely. Apart from the fries smell coming out of the kitchen chimney next to us that gave me the impression of sleeping in a fast food kitchen, it was perfect !
We get off on a sleepin Raiatea with a weekend ahead of us before starting our woofing at the Vaihuti Fresh farm. We set up in a kind of parc along the sea and take out inflating mats out to finish our night. The security guard sees us but lets us be. When the sun comes up, he comes and wakes us up, we fold our mats back in and start walking to the only place that seems open, a little café where we have a nice breakfast that wakes us up for the rest of the day. Uturoa is a little city, a town rather by its size but as the main city of the island, it also has the biggest supermarkets, restaurants and shops as well as a school and administrative buildings.
We take two days of rest before starting to work. We spend them in the south east of the island, not far from the marae taputapuatea, traditional sacred area for the « îles sous le vent » and now recognized as world heritage site by the UNESCO. It is also in this area that you find the only beach of the main island. People rather go on the motus to bathe and fish or from the various quays going into the water around the island. To get there we take the « truck », a bus with benches on each side all along its length, very open, which fills up little by little and leaving about an hour after we board it (at the assumed time of departure), makes several times the tour of the town to collect more people and takes us slowly to our destination. There are stops to let people down and others for people to make some shopping and get back on the bus. Everyone talks to everyone and we talk too, we taste stuff that they give and listen to the advice and tips. Eventually we take about 3h since we boarded the bus to get to our destination at PK32, so about a 30km ride but is was a great experience that leaves a smile imprinted upon our faces.
We start by camping one night. What a bad idea ! The intense heat does not allow for the night to get fresher and our plastic mats are sticking to our skin. We can't open the tent either because of the very agressive mosquitoes. Lucky for us, the camping is also a pension with some bungalows for rent. The second night will be spent in a bungalow closed by mosquito nets and under a fan, we get to breathe again. In the evening, we eat at the nearby foodtruck, red tuna sashimi or coconut milk raw tuna or grilled fish. The local fishes are amazingly good ! We enjoy them thoroughly !
Monday, we meet with Thierry of the Vaihuti Fresh farm. Thierry is the farm boss. Previously oceanographer, he fell very naturally into organic farmin when he observed the effect of human pollution onto the corals. On the way, he tells us a bit about the farm. 3 ha (~6 acres) of cultivated land with a lot of tunnels, a 6 workers team and a secretary, three associates. It is a big company and all this organically in a hot and wet climate favourable to all kinds of fongic deseases for plants, way to go ! Several weeks to discover this incredible project which is running and providing organic vegetables to the surrounding region. More on the farm HERE.
An incredible experience for Thomas to enable him to learn a lot of various market gardener moves like planting, preparing a bed, trimming some veggies, harvesting, cleaning, weighing, packing, sowing a bit and mostly face the terrible heat and humidity under the plastic tunnel houses during the afternoons. Also a beautiful experience for me to dive right back into market gardening with pleasure even with the harsh conditions of heat and humidity but also relentless mosquitoes thus with long sleeves and long pants for work which doesn't make it easier. Tom gets out with a stronger back and kilos of water lost and I could test my resistance, my physical limits and even push a bit further beyond.
The working team is great. They are all Tahitians and we get to learn some words into Tahitian language and get a glimpse of their daily lives. Of course, life on the farm isn't all a bed of roses and these Tahitians are not always the best communicators so some sand can get into the gears sometimes and things need to be set back straight sometimes. Luckily, Thierry with his natural calm and rational thinking and Paul, his associate, with his communicative energy are taking care and ensure to get it out of everyone and arrange the necessary measures that are required to continue improving. It has been three years that the farm exists and it still continues to improve and grow and there are still a lot of projects to implement so making sure the team runs well is paramount.
Amongst the workers, Arii'hau started at the same time as us. We were even on the same ship getting to the island ! As his family lives in town or on Tahaa, the neighbouring island, he sleeps also onsite like us. He is 24 years old. We get along really well and spend evening speaking and laughing together in the open barn where we are sleeping under the star-filled sky of Raiatea, the sacred island. He is a child of the fenua (the islands, the home terriroty) but spent par of his teens with his father in Toulon, South of France. Nostalgic from his own culture and original land, he comes back at 19 and since then, seems to be living a much happier life.
We discover the farm together as well as the team dynamics which pulls us together as well. He teaches us words, how to eat certains things and to recognize some plants and we listen delighted when he picks up his yukulele to practice. We tell him about the other farms we've seen , the techniques we encountered, what we would like to do back hom, it is interesting for him since he is discovering here his first productive farm and appreciates the comparisons.
Thierry also asks us to observe the farm and make suggestions to improve things according what we were able to experience before on other farms and with my market garden training. That too feeds a lot of our evening discussions and we are all really into imagining what could be done from the simplest to the less realistic. We only let Thierry know about what seems to us useful and realistic of course.
During this time, Tom practice organic market gardening and learns about the technical moves that rapidly become a second nature, we also discover new ways to plant the tomatoes, learn a bit about irrigation management and the way to trim eggplants or to train tomatoes. Each farm has its particularities and ways of doing things for each vegetable, I love to discover them and thus increasing our range of options for our future project.
There are no good or bad ways to do things, only different ways very much linked to the available material and tools available onsite. It is pretty crazy how diversity can be found in organic farming, not only for the soil life but also in the ways of doing things. Organic farming is full of ideas and innovations, from small to big to produce a very dynamic and evolutionary agricultural landscape. I am under the impression that this is what happens when you start growing veggies organically with the idea to do better for yourself, the others and the planet, it motivates you to find solutions and thus to innovate !
Thomas also connects back with Sylvain, a childhood friend with whom he used to play tennis with and who now lives in Raiatea from where he manages the Trade Winds company base, a company that organizes catamaran leisure journeys. Even though it's been a good long while, they hit it off really quickly and we have really good times together. Sylvain takes us to his friends party one evening, it is great but at 10pm we can't stand up anymore and go straight to sleep in the car until we go back home. The rythm at the farm is 6:30am till 9pm tops and that would already be a long night !
Laura, his girlfriend, is a young and perky woman who works at Utuora hospital. We enjoy meeting her ! During the weekend, when we don't see them, we are visiting Tahaa where we treat ourselves to a family pension, Ti Taina, and go snorkeling in the most beautiful coral garden we've seen so far (though the one close to the motu in Moorea is also really nice). Otherwise, Paul, Thierry's associate, even lends us a house for a weekend, closer to town, so we can get out of the farm a bit. It is really nice ! Between him and Thierry who lent us a car as a reward for our good work (he says too kindly!), we are really spoiled !
Surfing in Raiatea
Paul and Thierry are linked through surfing. It is an essential activity of the island and Paul tells us a bit about this community. The Raiatea waves are protected by the local surfers. Everyone is welcome so long as you follow the etiquette. Nothing complicated, just say hello and wait for your turn to enjoy the waves, wether you are a good surfer or not, this way everyone can progress and enjoy the waves. It is also forbidden to film the surfers because in this capitalistic society, the pictures end up on magazines and commercials without them receiving one dime for it. A famous brand of ultra-energizing soda (which also gives you heart attacks and makes people obese) did try to organize a competition there which would have taken these waves out of the unknown to bring them forth on the international surfing competition scene. After a strong opposition, they managed to get one spot, but only for one date when the wave would be there. Busy elsewhere, the movie team couldn't make it on that day when the swell was here. It was over, the local surfers said they had their chance and didn't take it so the contract was terminated. The waves of Raiatea remained protected and the surfers community still keeps the surf spirit which has all but disappeared on the famous waves of the world, polluted by arrogant surfers who steal waves and don't say hello. Later, we met people that told us there are no waves in Raiatea, of course, since they are not well-known, although they are beautiful and often there. Seems that the waves there are in a certain direction that makes them pretty rare, but not being an expert, i can't tell you more about it. And all the better for it !
When the Jujus arrive, Justine and Jules, coming for a month of woofing during their tour of the French Polynesia islands before settling down in Tahiti, it is party time. Our little group living in the barn grows and we start up an internal challenge, based on a french TV show, « an almost perfect dinner », but with the means available, in order to stimulate our culinary creativity. And it works ! We spend a week eating good things, even the first meal, totally improvised by a tired Arii'hau who had spent the weekend getting a tan on a motu, is a success. Aubergines, tempura style ! Delicious ! Here we eath aubergines, cucumbers and red bean with rice and a sauce. Preparing food everyday with these ingredients, two times a day, is a true challenge. It is pretty well-done by our lunch cooks and taking it to a completely other level during the « almost perfect dinner » evenings. We grade and comment and laugh our hearts out.
Little love birds excursion to Tahaa
We drive together around the island and visit the marae taputapuatea, a UNESCO world heritage site. Apparently, all the canoes that went around to populate the pacific islands left from there. It is quite impressive, especially the view from up top with the surrounding lagoon. The path go up is not yet opened to the public but we find the entrance and get in discreetly.
One of these evening, with a great sunset, we all pose for Tom on a pontoon. Our silhouettes oversized by the photo angle make us look like a rap band. Alright then but a rap band without a song or a video clip isn't really a band. No matter ! Arii'hau plays the yukulele and between all of us, surely we should be able to create a song. As we are in Vaihuti, of course, it is a song about plantation that comes to mind. The lyrics are found in the next few days while we are singing this song over and over again, all day long. Arii'hau practices the keys, i place the lyrics on the rythm so it works, Tom chases the images to illustrate the words and the Jujus participate even when they say they cannot sing (ok we do believe them now, hihi)
It gives you this. Showed on our last day on the farm to everyone, together with a small caramelized banana cake. We are truly sad when we leave the farm. Thierry is a great guy and we hope to see him again, the whole team is just great and we leave with our heads full of memories. We say « see you soon » to the Jujus whom we'll meet again in Tahiti and cross our fingers to see Arii'hau again back in France otherwise, we'll be back. It is often found in the litterature that there is a softness and a joy to the polynesian way of life but it isn't just a writer's expression, it is concrete and real, we have felt it intensely during this time spent on Raiatea, the sacred island.
Technical videos made on-site:
Fertilization and Papaya Tree care with Paul
Lactofermentation and compost tea with Thierry
Compost using the fish mixture with Taniera