Friday, March 31, 2017

French Polynesia, Part 2

The locals, and the tourist industry too, call the island of Taha’a the vanilla island. We had a tour of one family run farm. I think they are all family run.

 I drew the supporting plant and the thin green vanilla vine. Each plant has to be hand-pollinated, as the bees in the islands don’t recognize the plant. I think this means it is not native to the islands. So whole families are in the vanilla woods with little brushes to move the pollen to the appropriate part of the flower to start the growth of the bean. The farmer we met called them vanilla sticks. 

We got the full lecture why Tahitian vanilla is far superior to Madagascar vanilla. In essence, it is left on the vine until ripe, then massaged a lot to distribute the  oils throughout the entire bean.

The coconut shells keep the chickens away from the plants. 

I never saw a sprouting coconut before, so it was a must draw.

The chickens are everywhere to eat the centipedes.

Occasionally I draw from memory if the memory is strong enough. The last stop on our cultural tour around the island of Taha’a was this beach along a lagoon.

The holes are the homes of land crabs. The guide told us that the crabs come out of their holes during a full moon. At this time, the locals collect them and bring them home for a delicious treat. But first, the crabs need to be kept in a box and fed shredded coconut for a month to improve the taste of the flesh.

On the right is my memory of the flat black stones that make up a marae, an ancestral burial ground. One guide pointed out to us on the first day that no moss or anything grows on the sacred rocks. I looked carefully. She was right. Sort of spooky.

One day the cruise ship program called for a barbeque lunch picnic on a motu. I think motu means small uninhabited coral island. We had to wade to the land through waist deep water for an extra bit of cooling fun.  

A couple got married on the motu. The bride wore a white bikini with a short lacy coverup.

 It made an entertaining contrast to draw the cruise ship in the lagoon with a two person kayak in the foreground.

 We got to the picnic late, but there were still some coconuts to sip from.

The glass bottom boat was small. I recall a full load of eight passengers and a hilariously cheerful and good spirited young driver/diver. Twice he swam under the boat and clowned around under the glass window. With the fish.

These are the animals we saw from the glass bottom boat. Upon seeing about fifty other people in the shallow water, I jumped in, street clothes and all, to pet the sting rays. We were not feeding them, but they were crowding all around us like puppies. No one got stung.

And more exotic animals we don’t see in New Hampshire. The striped fish looked like the kinds you see in aquariums.

The volcanic profiles of the islands are fascinating and fun to draw.

We did go ashore in Bora Bora because we had signed up for something called an aquabike or underwater scooter. Honestly, we didn’t understand what we were signing up for. A better description is a two person submarine, where your head stays dry in a bubble of air, and the rest of you is wet. Bruce drove, and I gripped my seat. We were ten feet below the water surface for 30 minutes. Bruce followed the diver as he showed us the underwater sights. Fish food hung from the scooter so we had a lot of gorgeous looking freeloaders to watch.

Our diver guide was the grandson of the inventor. These machines exist in only two places in the world, both operated by this family.

The last island the ship sailed to was Mo’orea. This is the view from Tahiti. These two islands are close enough that many people commute by ferry from the quieter island of Mo’orea to the more bustling Pape’ete, capital of French Polynesia on Tahiti.

We didn’t go onto Mo’orea as it was raining and I had some paintings I wanted to finish before an on-ship presentation.

 The crossing between Mo’orea and Tahiti was the only rough water we encountered. It reminded me of the English Channel in that regard.

Even the tugboat was colorful and worthy of a sketch.

 On our last day we had another two hour tour of Tahiti, south of Pape’ete.  It was like a bookend to the first day’s tour to the north of the city. Here we are on a very windy day on a black sand beach. The people on the water with their windsails and kites seemed to be having a grand time.

I often finish out a post with something botanical and colorful. I so enjoyed the tropical flowers that could be found along the roadsides, on crowns on people’s heads, around the calves of the bellhops, circling the hips of the dancers, fashioned into bras for the nighttime shows, and above as decor on a bar. It was a feast for my flower-loving eyes.

French Polynesia did not disappoint. I think about it everyday.

A note about the native language. As seen in my writing above, it often features an apostrophe between two identical vowels. This appears to be optional, but highly recommended for clarity. It indicates that the vowels are pronounced separately, with a brief stop in between, and not combined into a long vowel as in English and other languages. We learned in an onboard talk by a Dartmouth linguistics professor that this is often characteristic of languages that are a bit higher in the family tree than the more contemporary ones, and that the concept goes away as languages evolve into more simple forms. Yes, I got a few of the apostrophes wrong in the notes on my drawings.

We also learned that the language is spoken without stress on specific syllables. It was rather jarring to hear the familiar word Samoa pronounced that way.

Sam oh ah, with no stress

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Maple Syrup

It is Spring in New Hampshire. That means it is still snowing but the sap is flowing. It is the time of the year when the sugar shacks are collecting sap to boil down into maple syrup, nature’s health food.

Yesterday we drove over to Sunapee, to Harding Hill Farm. Here is their sugar house with the steam billowing out of it. Next to the steam vent is the chimney for the smoke from the pine log fire under the evaporator.

In the modern system, sap is collected from the maple trees in plastic tubes. It all runs down hill into the tank. You still see some metal sap buckets on some trees in the area.

The inside of the sugar house is very very steamy. If I drew all the steam, you wouldn’t see much else. Here we see the end of the stove which has just been opened and filled with split pine logs. The evaporator tank is behind the red label. The reverse osmosis equipment is in the far room. This process extracts a large proportion of water from the sap, saving time and fuel to boil it down. We had a lovely small cup of warm syrup to sip and savor.

We both enjoyed being in the same room as this little girl. She was so interested in everything that was going on and asked great questions. Curious children are such a delight.

Mark your calendars for the weekend of March 25–26. That’s New Hampshire Maple Weekend, and sugar houses all over the state will be open for tours, demonstrations, and samples.