Monday, July 14, 2008

Hula Hips

Ben’s absence left me with a lot of time on my hands, in a town we had already explored. Out of pity for the lonely girl sailor, Chantal and Didier (from Sea Lance) took me under their wing, checking on me often, and seeking out things for me to do. So, this is how I came to attend morning water aerobics (aqua gym) with a group of French ladies in the tepid waters of Taiohae Bay. Instructions in French were accompanied by hand signals for my benefit to demonstrate what my body should be attempting to do under water. Despite all the étende et serré maneuvers, conversation was never interrupted so local gossip was forthcoming. And let’s not forget the Marquesan dance lesson Chantal roped me into. The few of us neophytes who attended tried to emulate the other dancers in a complicated pattern of missteps. I figured as long as I hula’d my hips, it didn’t really matter that I was turning left instead of right, backing up instead of advancing or bumping into my neighbor. It was a wee bit embarrassing when my pareo (kind of a sarong) fell off, but I tried to make it look graceful.

Just as I was getting a bit bored of reading and cracking coconuts, the village erupted in a flurry of activity centered around la foire agricole (agricultural fair) held in Nuku Hiva every 4 years. Booths selling the handicrafts of local artisans (carvings, tapa cloth, jewelry, quilts) vied with vendors of produce, tropical fruits and plants, one tattoo artist and a variety of livestock on display (pigs, goats, horses and cattle). All week, along the beach, big logs were cleaved and carved into pirogues, the traditional Polynesian canoes, in a contest spanning 5 days. I took a daily tour of the canoes to see how they progressed and then watched as the canoes were paddled around the bay on the last day of the fair to prove they actually float. There were other contests as well: coconut cracking (several lacerations were sustained as the nut meat was removed with big knives in a hurry), a fruit-carrying race (30 kg for the men, 15 kg for the women), flower crown weaving and poe’e poe’e pounding (this is a traditional dish made of breadfruit and served in coconut milk). Everyone and their uncle was there, strolling to an accompaniment of ukuleles.

Anyway, there was plenty of entertainment to keep me occupied while Ben was away. We spent a couple more days in town after Ben returned for follow-up email access, and finally we shoved off on June 5th for the island next door, Ua Pou.

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