Taha'a Tours-Vanilla and Pearls
10 June 2009 | Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Marrying orchids and impregnating oysters. Sounds very Georgia O'Keefe, doesn't it? Alain Plantier (firstname.lastname@example.org or VHF 9) lives in, quite possibly, the most tranquil setting I've ever seen. His home, overlooking Bay Hurepiti on Taha'a, consists of multiple structures, each covered with hand-woven thatched roofs, one for living, another for sleeping, another for bathing, all surrounded by acres of beautiful mature landscaping, most of which you could consume. Twenty years ago, Alain, an avid sailor and botanist, opened his Vanilla Tour company, hosting between 4-10 guests at a time. His small round spectacles frame a gentle face and an encyclopedic mind, filled with facts he readily shares. Did you know that vanilla originated in Mexico, grows on vines, and in Polynesia, the vanilla orchids are pollinated by hand? True. One farm we visited hand pollinates 10,000 flowers per day. The French Polynesian vanilla has a unique scent...licorice. The aroma in the air as we toured the island, was intoxicating, not just with the vanilla, but the ylang-ylang, jasmine and of course, gardenias. It was a school field trip for all of us. Zen was the water shuttle for 6 other cruising friends from s/v Obsession and s/v Szel. The 10 of us tasted wild basil Alain picked from the side of the road that numbed our tongues and reminded us of the dentist's chair. We rubbed ourselves with lemongrass to keep the bugs away and discovered certain flowers in the hibiscus family, when used to clean our snorkel masks, will de-fog them like magic. It went on and on. Each bend in the road brought new facts and historical awareness. When I asked the kids, "What was the most interesting thing you learned today?", they responded with these answers: "It's so cool those flowers that are all over the place turn from yellow to red in one day and then fall from the tree." And..."I didn't know there are special bees in Mexico that automatically pollinate the vanilla orchids in that part of the world."
Did you know one pearl farmer could be cultivating and caring for over 100,000 oysters at a time? Monique and Bernard of Champon Perles (champonperles.com or email@example.com) opened our eyes to the extensive work, time and expertise needed to obtain the huge grade A black pearls they produce each year. The Champon family also did some global cruising with their family before settling on French Polynesia as their home on land. They ran a very successful boatyard in Ra'itea for many years and then, seeking less deadlines and stress, sold their business and opened a pearl farm on Taha'a. Monique showed us the grafting process from start to finish. Did you know the little round nucleus that is placed in each oyster comes from shells harvested in Mississippi? The Champon family sells wholesale and retail, but we had the pleasure of sitting in their living room, surrounded by art they collected from their global sailing adventures, to pick out a handful of beauties. Three special gifts arrived on Zen the next day from Monique and Bernard, 2 pearl necklaces for Cammi and Cole and a handcrafted pearl ring for one of our best friends who is battling childhood leukemia (and winning!). Yes, I cried.
More crying happened today while we sailed to Bora Bora. This is really private, but I gotta share. There were 3 big, dark rain squalls marching across the horizon as we cruised along under full main and jib . The wind was about 20 knots and coming from a better angle than we expected. I was relaxed and at the helm, my favorite place. Why the tears? Tommy turned on the radar and pulled out the binoculars while I was still having fun at the wheel. It's standard stuff, yes, but when the wind hit 35 knots and rain started pelting me sideways, Tom had already reefed the main and the jib. He was way ahead of the game and all that was left for us to do was to race Zen towards her paradise landfall at 11 knots and totally flat. I never give him random complements, today I did. I was very grateful for his foresight and preparedness, leaving me to have fun at the sport of sailing. He's always like that, but today, it seemed to hit me how lucky I am to have such a salty dog for a husband. We departed the Taravana Yacht Club, a sailor's haven, home to Cindy, possibly the best chef in French Polynesia, and run by Richard and his son, Maui (firstname.lastname@example.org or taravanayachtclub.com). It's a place we'd earmark as a "must return to" on our next cruise when the kids are in college. For now, we'll circumnavigate Bora Bora and start looking for weather windows for Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.