Thursday, June 27, 2013

Part 3: Takaroa—Church and Goodbyes

Getting to church is no easy feat when you live on the other side of an atoll—like the Palmer family does.  The Mormon church is a good 5 miles across the lagoon, and in rough weather, it can get a little wet.
First, you have to cross the lagoon by dinghy.
Then a walk down a long dusty road.  Mind you, Robert was ahead of us all.  Even at 80-years-old he still had a young spring in his step.
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The gang on our way to church.
Once at church, I couldn't resist the cuteness of all the little kids.  What you don't see is that Robert brought a package of beef jerky to give to all the children.  I told him that there was one like him in every ward and as a kid, I knew who had the candy and would directly go up to him.  This tactic still seems to be working as all the kids were loving on Robert like he was their grandfather.  Such a precious scene.
A Mormon missionary from France playing with the children.  Again, I couldn't take my eyes off how beautiful the children were.
Our photo in front of the church in Teavaroa.
Sue and David joined us for church.  We are trying to make our way back to the dinghy and the road is a little less than ideal. It's never easy with a stroller, but we always manage.
Soon it was time for us to leave.  We waited for the Palmer's to return after church since they had meetings and visits with members.

Finally, after a few hours we couldn't wait any longer because we had to catch the right tide out of the lagoon.  So, Martin and David took our "thank you" package and placed it on their dining room table and then we pulled up anchor and started to navigate through the minefield of buoys ourselves.  I'll tell you, I never said so many prayers in my life, because on top of having to navigate around the buoy's, we had to also avoid the coral reefs.  It was a good 20 minutes of white knuckles all around.
Three miles out into the ocean, low and behold we see the Palmer's heading straight for us to say their goodbyes.
They even had the missionaries with them because the Palmer's were taking them to their house to feed them and had to speed out of the lagoon to come say goodbye to us.  See, they are just amazing people.
I love that they are in their shorts.  It get's so wet on the boat that they change into their slacks when they get to church.

Thank you, Palmer family for such a fun and wonderful experience.  We will never forget our time in Takaroa and are so grateful to Joey for introducing us to such an amazing family.  They exemplify what Martin and I are always striving for, i.e., to be better people, to always be more caring and always able to extend love towards others.  They have mastered it, and we will continue to work on it.  Thank you for being such wonderful examples in showing Christ's love to others.

I am terrible at goodbyes and I was especially tearful with this one.  I pray that they continue to prosper and are always blessed.

Now we are off to Fakarava!  It's a 120 mile trip which will take us about a day.  I hope it's as memorable as Takaroa was for us.

Part 2: Takaroa—Paradise and Friends Found

The Palmer's were such amazing hosts.  This was the first night that we arrived.  Myna made up an amazing spread of typical Tahitian food.  We were all super excited to dip in and try out all the food.
Robert's wife, Myna, is a beautiful, elegant and refined woman who instantly takes you in and shows you a kindness that you could only wish to possess.  She was the ward's (church congregation) Relief Society president up until a few months ago.

In lay terms, the Relief Society was set up by the Mormon church to help provide love, aid, support and fellowship to the women in the church.  There are over 300 members in Myna's ward; which meant she was responsible for all the woman in that area.  This is no easy task in that Myna's home is about a 30 minute boat ride to the other side of the island where Teavona (the main town) is located.  She said that many nights she would have to have Robert or Louis drive her (by boat) over to a member's home to help take care of a fellow sister in the ward.

In fact, the first day in Teavaroa we were roaming the streets and saw Robert at the dock and sitting in his boat (he was reading his Sunday School manual and preparing his lesson for Sunday.)  We asked him where Myna was and he said she was visiting and teaching one of the sister's in their ward and he was just waiting for her until she was done.  I feel very humbled thinking of all the good work that these two are bringing to the members of their ward.

As a side note:  Louis is a counselor to the Bishop (equal to an aid to a minister).  Louis' family lives in Papeete, Tahiti because the school on the island is only for children up to age ten.  So, he comes to Takaroa and works for a few weeks and then goes home for just a few days to see his family in Papeete.  In the meantime, he is taking care of the ward's needs while living in Takaroa.  This is one good family.

Here, Louis is cracking open a coconut to squeeze out the coconut milk for a dish that Sue prepared for dinner called, Poisson Cru (Raw Fish with lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and a mixture of different dressings along with coconut milk).  Sue says that it is their equivalent to our potato salad.  Every recipe differs.
Just a little tap on the top and the coconut water comes pouring out.
Here, Louis is putting the coconut up to a grinder that gently grades the coconut into small shavings.
A better view of the knob that the coconut is placed on to create the shavings for the milk.
That's about four coconuts' shavings here.
Next, Louis takes the shavings and puts them into a cheese cloth and then rolls it into a ball and starts squeezing out the coconut milk.
Now, let's see if I can remember all the dishes that Myna made for us.  Above is Poisson Cru.
Oyster salad.
Smoked/BBQ Fish.
This was a mixture of sweet bread and coconut called, Ipu.  It was so good that Lily and I went back for seconds and thirds.  Yummy!
I wish that this picture didn't come out so blurry, but I had to post it anyway. Sue coming face-to-face with dinner.  That Sue is a funny one.
Meredith trying the raw fish stew.  Basically raw fish in a dish dipped in a fermented coconut.  The minute I saw fish heads and heard the word "fermented" I was "out."   Although, now I regret it because everyone said it was worth a try.  Instead, I made Meredith try it.  She'll try anything.  Me?  I stuck with the sweet bread and rice.  A little too adventurous for me.
Verdict in!  She loves it!  Of course.
The next night was our turn to entertain.  We had the whole gang over and Sue fixed us all a meal fit for a king.  Once again, Robert entertained us with his stories from his childhood laced with the most perfectly pitched laugh in between stories.  It was such a delight to have them all on board AMARA and just letting the time pass with great stories and amazing food.

Note:  Our dessert was "Sticky Toffee Bread" (which was heavenly).  I haven't had that much sugar in a long time and I think I went into sugar overload and had to go lie down for a bit.  It was so worth it though.  (Note to self: Get that recipe!)
Takaroa Airport
Sadly, the day came where we had to drop Meredith and Joey off at the airport by pulling up to the terminal in a boat.  It was so much fun having Meredith join us across the Pacific and she really was a big help to me in watching Lily.  We were really sad to see her go.  Likewise, we loved visiting with Joey and seeing him.  He is a great friend to our family and it was such an adventure seeing him in Takaroa and seeing how loved he is by so many of the people there.
Louis was a full-service baggage handler.
Takaroa Airport.
I stuffed Meredith's bags with all sorts of things that I realized early on weren't ideal for the trip.  So, I sent a good 50-lbs home with her.  Problem was, that her bags were a little too packed and we worried that she wasn't going to make the weight limit.  She made it by the skin of teeth and one of Joey's extra bags...
Here is the terminal desk and what flights are flying in and leaving the airport back to Papeete.
But before we let Meredith go, we quickly took her to a little market where we bought all sorts of homemade goods.
Meredith getting hugs all around from the Palmer's.
Myna and Robert came to the airport to send off Meredith and Joey.
Joey and Meredith taking off to Papeete where they will catch their connecting flight back to the US.   We were so sad to see them both go.
However, not to worry.  We will see them in two weeks since we are going home for a visit.  I can't help but say that I am a little excited.  When we return to Tahiti, my sister, Courtney, and her family will be joining us for two weeks.  This trip just keeps getting better!
More on Takaroa in the next post!

Part 1—Takaroa: It Doesn't Get Any Better

It's hard to even know where to begin when writing about our time in Takaroa.  After reviewing my photos, I still haven't captured the feeling of "home" that we all felt the minute AMARA entered Takaroa's atoll.

Takaroa is a small atoll in the Tuamotus Islands in French Polynesia.  The reason that we came to Takaroa was to visit our dear friend and neighbor back home, Joey Buchan, and visit his black pearl farm —Tahitian Pearl Farms.  While there, we met the Palmer family whose sons are business partners with Joey.  What we didn't realize is how wonderful of a stay we would have with this amazing family.
First, before I go further into our visit, I wanted to show an area view of Takaroa and where the town Teavaroa is located in reference to where we stayed next to Robert Palmer's home (not the singer).

DSCN0542 edited 1Looking at where we had to enter, you can tell that it was quite tricky bringing a 56-foot long catamaran (that is 31 feet wide) into this pass.  The atoll's pass is known to be a bit dangerous as it is "L" shaped.  Boats can only enter  when the tide is slack.  Meaning, the water needs to be at the right height and current or it will run aground.

Martin and David studied charts and weather patterns for days trying to figure out when would be the best time to enter into the atoll.  On top of the pass being a bit sketchy, there is also the matter of having to deal with the numerous coral reefs AND tall the pearl buoy balls where pearls are being grown and harvested.  It's like entering a minefield if you don't know what you're doing.
Fortunately, we didn't have to worry too much because our new friend, Louis Palmer, and Joey came out to the opening of the atoll to meet us and to escort us into safe harbor and through the maze of coral and buoys.
When entering the atoll, the first building welcoming us was the red-roofed LDS church (Mormon).  This church is one of two located in the town of Teavaroa and was built by it's members under the tutelage of a missionary and was completed in the late 1800's.
The second LDS church building is much newer (5 years old) and located about 2 miles down the road.  Being that we are also Mormon, it was especially fun for us to come to a community that is heavily populated by wonderful and strong members of the church.
After squeezing through the opening of the atoll, and passing the red-roofed Mormon church, there are all the buoys that you have to contend with.  They look to be scattered everywhere throughout the bay, but Louis assured me that they are all on a grid system and if you know the "system" it is really quite safe.  To the untrained eye though, it looks like one is entering a maze.  They are everywhere.  The buoys mark the areas where pearls are being cultured and will be eventually harvested.
Our first view of the Palmer's home, located on the south end of the island of Takaroa and directly across the water (about 5 miles by boat) from the town of Teavaroa.
The satellite dish is a sure sign of life and and the hammock was calling my name.
Now for a tour of the Palmer's home.  This is not your typical home that we in the states are used to seeing.   The Palmer's home is an "open" floor plan.  Meaning they don't have any walls separating them from the outside.  That way, the breeze easily passes through their home and it also provides a beautiful view from every  direction.
First, there is the Palmer's open kitchen where we spent two nights sitting around their table enjoying Robert's stories and Myna's wonderful food.
Robert is a young eighty-year-old with an infectious laugh and full of stories that you could listen to for hours on end.
Now for Robert and Myna's home.
Their bedroom and sitting room.
Here you can get an idea of their open floor plan and their view.
This is a view from their home.  In the lagoon, you can see AMARA.
When Joey comes to visit, he stays in a little bungalow.  The bungalow is located off of the side of the Palmer's house.  It is quite cozy and quaint.
The nightstand in the bungalow.  I love the rustic look of using natural elements.
Joey showing us his "guest" bathroom and shower.
Meredith getting a coconut out of the tree next to the Palmer's home.
Joey explaining to Meredith the different ways to eat and shuck a coconut.
Of course, Lily found herself a comfy place to play.  She is always game for a swing in a hammock.
This sign is hung over the kitchen in the Palmer's home, reminding them of the Savior and who has blessed them with such bounteous blessings.
When we arrived, Louis and Joey jumped on the boat and Louis proceeded to show us how they harvest the pearls.  Above he is cracking open a pearl oyster.
Right on top of his finger is the pearl in its beginning stages.  Each pearl takes around 2.5 years to culture and then it comes out in the most beautiful colors.  Peacock/rainbow, fly-wing green and aubergine are the rarest of the colors and then they proceed down to a silvery gray (which I loved!).
Next, we went over to the pearl farm.  We got there during harvest season, so we were able to watch the harvesting in action.  Above, a worker is bringing in pearl oysters' shells directly from the sea, where they are organized so that the pearls can be extracted from the shells.
The pearl oysters are marked and used again.  The worker above is actually taking tiny little beads and placing them in the nucleus of the shell so that the oyster can do its work again.  The pearl will be ready to harvest again in another 2-3 years.
A close up of the beads that are being placed in the shell to help the oyster to start creating the pearl.
This worker is extracting the pearls from the oyster shells and dropping them in a bucket where they will be cleaned and polished and readied for market.
At the end of the dock the oysters are brought in from the sea and placed here to wait their turn to be pulled and then harvested.
Joey showing us all the pearl oysters.
Louis brought over an example to us, showing us how the pearl oysters are beaded onto a rope and then he drops them systematically back into the ocean.  Louis does all the pulling and organizing of the shells at the bottom of the ocean floor himself.  He says it is too dangerous to let workers keep diving up and down and not having them decompress.  To cut out the chance of a worker getting hurt, he just does it himself.  Meaning he brings up and plants every string of oysters himself. In fact, Joey had to bring him a pair of new fins because last week he was pulling up some boxes of oyster shells and a shark came up and bit off his fin and swam away with it.  How is that for hard work?
Piles of Buoys
These are a precious commodity for pearl farmers.  Buoys help mark the spot of where their boxes of pear oysters are located under the sea.
…And the end result.  Let the shopping begin!
We could have sat there all day trying to pick the ones that we wanted to take home with us.    It was quite gratifying and so fun!  Here, Meredith is holding the pearls up to her ears and asking us, "This one… or this one?"
This is my kind of shopping.  My happy place.  I found a few that suited me.  The more the pearl is symmetrically shaped and colored, the rarer it is.  I didn't care, I chose the colors that I liked.  My favorites were the silver and beige ones, but I also got two very rare ones because I wanted a keepsake of this special time here in Takaroa.  Thank you, Joey and Louis for such an amazing experience and for your generosity.
After "shopping", Joey took us over to an old ship wreck that had been there for a 106 years.
Sue walking beside the ship.  DSCN9152
Martin and Joey enjoying a stroll on the beach while Meredith, Lily and I hunted for shells.
Meredith checking out what's inside the shipwreck.
After our tour we had a good hamburger at the one (and only) restaurant on the island.  Wait… I think Joey said that there was one more but it is rarely open.  I loved the remoteness of it all.
P.S. The hamburgers were pretty good!
Next, we took a tour of the town and went and saw the old Mormon church.
Then, we got a special treat and went to the post office where there was the possibility of getting online.  There, we got to duke it out for bandwidth between the four of us.  Everyone gets very serious when the word "Wi-Fi" is mentioned.  "No talking!"
Martin coming out of the Post Office with Lily.
Stay tuned, for Part 2 of our visit to Takaroa.