We were walking along the main road to town one morning in Tahaa when a woman hailed us from her driveway.
"Do you like bananas?", she asked.
"Yes, we do!"
And with that we were led into Maki's backyard. She lifted a hemp sack from a makeshift table and removed eight just-ripe bananas from a large stalk. As we placed these in our backpack, she cut down a couple of coconuts from a palm leaning over the ocean. With a few swift strokes of the machete, she opened the nuts for us to drink. Does life get any better than this? We were quenching our thirst with sweet coconut water in a lovely lady's garden with a misty view of Bora Bora rising out of the ocean like a mirage.
The land we stood upon was reclaimed from the reef bordering the island of Tahaa. I asked whether it was dangerous to live so close to the water and she recounted that her original home was destroyed by a cyclone in the late seventies. The new house is a pre-fabricated vinyl sided bungalow supplied by the French government after that catastrophe. All she has to do is pay the annual property taxes, which are modest. She was shocked when We told her that the amount she pays is less than a tenth of what one would pay in Canada. As we looked out across the lagoon dotted with the outlying motus, she told us that one of the larger of these islands belongs to her family. The copra they harvest there provides the money for necessities, other than food, which is plentiful on her land. We agreed that she truly lives in paradise. We shall return for a visit to thank her with something from our gift bag.
Later on the same hike we walked along a stream that flows out of a lush valley. Te pavement ended and we plunged into the rain forest, which in places had been cleared for banana and papaya plantings. The road dipped down over a hill and across the stream, where it ended in a small plantation.
We asked a family here if we could buy some pamplemousse from their garden. Their trees were literally sagging with the heavy bunches. The young couple were cutting open coconuts for copra and their 4 year old daughter was dancing and singing nearby. They said to take as many as we wished. I gave little Manolina a shell bracelet I was wearing and a necklace of seeds. She was delighted, even offering up her cheek for a little kiss. However when Chris tried to show Manolina the Polynesian dance steps he had picked up in Papeete and Moorea, she looked concerned and told him to "Arret, Arret!".
We staggered back to the main road with 14 large pamplemousse bulging from cloth bags and backpack. Back on the pavement, a man called down to us from his farm plot. Seeing that we liked pamplemousse, he invited us to taste one from a large tree in his own garden. His girlfriend watched as he cut slices and handed them to us. As we talked they would spontaneously burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Perhaps they were enjoying the effects of another home grown plant common in these parts.
On the main road I stuck out my thumb and we were picked up by the first car going by. The driver was a retired French teacher who had traveled and taught all over the world. We can see why he chose to retire here.