Laiza and Snack Hirifa
06 June 2016 | 15 48.18'S:146 09.06'W, Anse Amyot, Toau, Tuamotus
Our friend Rose, who sailed throughout the South Pacific last year, recommended that we visit a wonderful lady named Laiza who runs a little snack bar on the beach. Thank you, Rose! I'm so glad we took your advice. When we think back to the Tuamotus, we'll always remember Laiza's warm, welcoming and fun loving personality. What an experience!
Laiza, pronounced like Liza Minelli, and her husband Toria run a little beachfront snack bar at Hirifa. Now, let me set the scene. We'd just spent four nights in the South Pass anchorage, where food was unavailable to us at the restaurant of the rustic dive resort. To be honest, we felt unwelcome. However, with Hirifa's even more remote location and only a couple families living there, we kept our expectations down.
What we found was a welcoming haven in paradise! Laiza greeted us on her beach with big hugs and kisses on both cheeks, and her warmth and generosity just kept going after that. We shared stories about 2015 sailors we knew who'd left their burgees, t-shirts and photos on the walls of her restaurant. With a twinkle in her eye and a deep belly laugh, she told us about the parties she'd hosted, and she acted out charming impressions of yachtees from different parts of the world. The ultimate hostess, Laiza made it clear that she loves people, and she hoped we'd spend time at her restaurant, and on her beach and property.
Our dinners at Snack Hirifa were a treat. With flowers in her hair, Laiza dressed as brightly as the tropical colored tablecloth and napkins set for just us. A fresh flower centerpiece set the stage for the dinner table just a few feet from the ocean. Chilled coconut water served in the shells, an appetizer of deep fried grouper and parrot fish, bbq steak/chicken/fish, frites with roquefort dressing, and coconut cake for dessert - these weren't low calorie meals, but after all my healthy cooking onboard, it was just what we craved. And the company of our cruiser friends from Moonshadow, Nauti-Nauti, Carola, and Cartago, as well as Laiza and Toria, made for two memorable evenings.
What I will cherish most about our time at Haifa, however, was my time with Laiza, her animals and her coconuts. We enjoyed her under-foot and affectionate restaurant tabby and chief rat hunter named "Meow." Also, one of the white sister cats gave birth to two kittens just a week ago, and Laiza allowed me many visits to the secret nest. It was a first for me to hold a newborn kitten which had not yet opened her eyes.
And Laiza's pigs! At first, I wasn't interested in these grunting, wiry haired creatures. However, when they followed Mark and I as we walked along Laiza's sandy beach, I remembered why I had a childhood love for a piglet on my Uncle Arnold's farm. About six small auburn pigs stayed with us, like dogs. Moreover, the pigs charmed us by vying for our affection at the ocean's edge. I petted the head of a tiny one, and she seemed to purr as I stroked her forehead between the nose. Other pigs wanted the same treatment, and I started to understand why Laiza kept these creatures as pets. All her animals enjoy a diet of fish, chicken, steak and coconuts, and it's clear to me that they are tame and happy.
Finally, my favorite experience was my morning with Laiza learning about copra, coconuts, and the coconut palm. The production of copra, the dry residue of the white substance lining the coconut, is an essential economic activity on most of the islands and atolls in French Polynesia. Rich in vegetable fat, copra is regularly collected by schooners and taken to Papeete, where it is refined as oil and sold to the food and cosmetics industries. Laiza said that four large coconuts will yield about two dollars worth of copra, and this is how many families make their livings. Certainly, throughout our time in the Marquesas and the Tuamotus, we've seen many fallen coconuts, husks, half-nuts and coconut shavings placed on racks to dry in the sun. Laiza helped me to understand that each is a stage in the coconut to copra process.
Laiza praised the coconut for it's many other uses as well. Along with the wood in her tables and palm fronds covering her walls, the coconut palm and its fruit provides different tastes and textures at different stages of life. From within the young green coconut, I sampled sweet light coconut water. With a mid-aged coconut, Laiza used her industrial size shredding machine to shred he sweet meat, which she then pressed into a cup of delicious cream. Old brown coconuts provided the usual white meat, and also a spongy ball in the centre which was surprisingly sweet and delicious. The most interesting taste was heart of the coconut palm, taken from the stalk of a young coconut tree - this tasted something like asparagus or the white inner stalk of broccoli.
I went home with my arms laden with coconuts, with new knowledge about life on the Tuamotus, and with a full heart. Laiza stated that sharing her life and her culture is her real passion, and I am thankful that she chose to share so much with me. Now, we've left Fakarava and we're at our last Tuamotu atoll, called Toau. We tied to a mooring buoy in Anse Anyot, which is where Laiza's sister and brother-in-law, Valentine and Gaston, run a little restaurant perched over the water. If these two sisters are anything alike, there will be more fun to enjoy onshore.