Friday, April 27, 2012

Pakalolo and the Kindness of Strangers

We were returning from a long walk along the coast to the town of Hapatoni when a man gestured to us from under a generous awning spread beneath the trees in his yard. We walked over to where a group of young and middle aged men were sitting around a table. Hino, whose house it was, bade us sit down. He gave us two pamplemousse, offered us cups of coffee, and cut up an orange for us to enjoy as we introduced ourselves to his friends.

Hino had worked for 10 years on the inter-island boats and had traveled as far as Papeete, which took three days from here with a stop in the Tuamotus. He was now enjoying life at his home in the heart of Vaitahu. He was not married and his house appeared to be the social center for many of the young men and boys. There was a pool table and a foosball table under the giant awning as well as a swing for the youngsters.

The men were all quite friendly - chatting to us in French as they prepared salsa de mangue chinoise - prepared with under-ripe mangoes, sugar and a Chinese plum powder (a little spicy). Hino was also surrounded by animals - a 4 year old pet sow named Pakalolo and her three piglets, three dogs, an aquarium of fish, and many hens and roosters. Some no doubt were intended for the table but he was clearly fond of them all - referring to them as his family. The piglets and hens all came over when he called them and rooted in the earth where he sprinkled rice.

On our walk across to the other village we had been picked up by a couple in a pickup about half way there (after we had done most of the hard climbing, unfortunately). They were artisans who lived in Hapatoni, a village comprised almost entirely of carvers and jewelry makers. We had not realized it was so far between the villages (about 7 kms of steep ups and downs) and were grateful for the lift.

At Hapatoni we saw the carvers working and looked over their pieces in an artisan's exhibition. There were some very fine carved bone necklaces including a wonderfully carved octopus, tikis of bone with wooden end pieces, and some very intricate pirogue paddles, intended for display. We had not brought much money with us or we would have returned with more jewelry and maybe a paddle (the latter being coveted by Rani). Nobody pressured us to buy anything and one of the carvers - a handsome younger man with half his body tattooed - chatted to us about his carving and how he flew twice a year to Tahiti to exhibit and sell his work.

On the walk back we met Arthur Burns, whom we had seen earlier in Vaitahu (his name was tattooed on his upper arm, perhaps in case we should have trouble pronouncing it?) His family owned a plantation of more than 100 hectares in the hills between the villages with coconuts, mangoes, fei (plantain), and bananas. Arthur told us he had 10 children and was 64, although he looked barely 50. With a wickedly sharp machete, he helped us open a coconut we had found on the road and told us about himself as we strolled down the hill on our way back to the boat.

A little later another pickup truck stopped to offer us a lift the remaining couple of kilometers into town. The Marquesans have been very warm and open with us and the attitude here to life is refreshingly relaxed, even when compared to what we experienced in Mexico!

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