Papeno’o Valley, Tahiti

November 11, 2022

Kate Roney, Claremont McKenna College

Weaving baskets for Sunday’s ahima’a meal

Weaving baskets for Sunday's ahima'a meal

200 bug bites and counting…

I’m writing you from the kitchen, my brand newish Thomas Rhett special edition brook trout Chacos propped up on a chair, stomach absolutely stuffed with breadfruit fries, a Polynesian cover of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus playing in the background. Life is so good.

It’s been another wondrously full and exciting day today. For me and Jack, it started with a 5:30 A.M. waterfall cannonball and several strong cups of coffee. After another fantastic breakfast courtesy of Yolanda, we set off to help restore two more marae right next to camp. I was once again blessed with the task of documenting the process via drone. According to Jen, I’m a “whizz kid” with that thing. While flying Mo’ohono’s drone will probably never stop scaring me, nailing the landings is definitely getting more satisfying.

While rebuilding one of the walls, Mo’ohono taught us about “stomachs”, which is when the wall of a marae is rounded outwards either by tree roots or extra rocks during construction. When restoring these sacred sites, he reminded us that it’s important to keep the original design alive, avoiding making the maraes in our view of how they should look, embracing the ancient lines instead.

After the restoration, we headed up into the mountains for a waterfall hike and some panoramic views. The waterfall portion was cut short due to bad weather and a worse trail (near vertical mud slip-n-slide) so we munched on fresh sugar cane and hiked up to a dam instead. We were greeted by panoramic views of the valley and mountains around us, and a nice cool breeze helped us recover from the grueling ascent. It was magical.

After slipping and sliding our way back down for lunch, Josiane taught us how to make o’ini, a type of traditional Tahitian basket made from coconut leaves, which we were able to use to hold our dinner. While many baskets were, as Josiane put it, “Fine, if you’re okay with that!”, the activity was still a blast. Being able to create something useful from the earth that can be returned after its purpose has been served was an amazing feeling.

After weaving, we helped Josiane, Yolanda, and Mo’ohono cook uru, the Tahitian word for breadfruit. Uru is a very sensitive food. Depending on how ripe it is when you pick it and how soon its picked before you cook it, you can get very different tastes and textures. The group almost unanimously decided that we liked less ripe uru best because its not as sweet. Uru is traditionally roasted in a fire and is cooked until it becomes charred and crispy on the outside, and tender and delicious on the inside. We all took turns peeling the charred uru and then helped Josiane cut it up and turn it into breadfruit fries.

If I had to eat one food for the rest of my hopefully long days, it would now undoubtedly be breadfruit fries. Imagine a crispier potato with more complex flavor and then make it about five times tastier than you’re currently picturing it. That’s an uru fry.

Beyond the taste of uru fries, there are many things about being in Fare Hape that are hard to put into words. I don’t know how to accurately capture how special this place already is. One essential quality that I can speak to, is the incredible capacity for inspiring gratitude. Waking up every morning to the mountains and sun and falling asleep to the sounds of the river and rain, gratitude is nearly inescapable. Every day we say to each other “We are so lucky” or “What in the world did we do to deserve this?”.

I am so incredibly grateful to be here, in my brand newish Thomas Rhett special edition brook trout Chacos, stomach absolutely stuffed with breadfruit fries, Polynesian cover of Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus playing in the background, surrounded by the most incredible people in the most incredible place. I am so lucky. Life is so good.

Kate Roney,

Claremont McKenna College

P.S. Much love to all my family and friends reading this, I love and miss you all lots

P.P.S. Give the dog a hug for me

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