Volcano Villarica erupted a couple of weeks ago when I was still on Easter Island and we saw the spectacle on the news, but were also worried about the evacuation of Pucon and all other villages surrounding the spitting beast. It was over in a day and ever since Villarica has been puffing away in the usual manner. The Pucon alert system was put on yellow when I arrived and while numerous TV teams were nervously roaming around, eagerly waiting for the Volcano to erupt, the locals stayed calm and relaxed!
It did not erupt while I was there (and to my knowledge hasn’t ever since) … That said, because of the high alert it was impossible to climb Villarica and also the neighbouring Volcano Lanin, which, too, might erupt sooner or later. The option of climbing the in-between extinct Volcano Quetrupillán wasn’t very appealing. Instead I took the early morning bus to National Park Huerquehue (I’m still unable to pronounce that!) and climbed 1200m up to San Sebastian (6h return). Once again, it was worth the pain, for the extraordinary nature, bird life and especially for the 360° view from the top (including a view of the Volcanoes):
On my last day on Moorea I finally got onto one of the B&B’s stand up paddle boards. I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for M., who – being a surfer – easily made his way out into the bay. I avoided the shallow water at the shore to stand up and instead paddled to the deeper water kneeling on the board. I am proud to say that I managed to stand up and paddle for quite a bit, despite the wind and the waves (and according to M. looked rather stable even though feeling a bit wobbly). Rookie mistake: I paddled out with the wind and getting back through the wind standing up proved to be difficult and I eventually had to get back on my knees. I did not fall once, though! Now that I’ve tried it I can say that, yes, it forces you to tense up every part of your body, which makes for a good work out. But it also proved to be rather dull and I definitely prefer a sea kayak over a stand up paddle board – it’s faster and much nimbler.
Moorea’s “Lagoonarium” is sited at a “motu”, a little island close to the Moorea reef. Every guest is assigned with his own little hut, snorcheling equipment and a pair of those pretty plastic sandals – stepping onto a poisonous stonefish is said to be a very unpleasant experience. Every hut has a view of the sea, the adjacent bar area is formed like a ship and everything, even the bathroom (which is equipped with a flushing toilet!) is tiled with shells. Several buoys are fixed to the reef area, all connected by a rope, allowing guests to safely make their way around, as the current is quite strong. At 10 am there was no one else in the water and I enjoyed fabulous views of the underwater world with plenty of fishes. But the real adventure started with the 11am feeding session! The guide arrived with a bucket full of (dead) little fish. Attracted by that, a growing number of large stingrays already made their way into the shallow water. He fed them like riding a donkey with a carrot: by holding the fish close to their mouth he lured them around and the soft stingrays touched us gently while passing by. They even seem to enjoy being padded. This is not a zoo, though. And even though the animals are obviously used to being fed and touched by humans they are still wild animals. I found it a bit scary, but I must admit that for the most part I was simply amazed! After a white the guide asked us to make our way along the rope from the shallow 1,20m into the deeper water (about 5m deep). There he rode the stingrays by holding onto their front with a fish in his hand – sourrounded by at least ten 1,50m long reefsharks, anxious to get their piece of the cake. Obviosly, there were plenty of colourful fish, too. It was truly spectacular! The downside is that these beautiful animals get used to being fed and might thus lose their hunting skills, being increasingly dependent on humans.
I tried to stay away from the sun, as far as possible, and protected myself with a t-shirt to protect me from getting burned. I “only” have a factor 50 sunlotion, which I constantly applied to my body until it was empty. I’ve now learned that the locals use a factor 110 (!) sunlotion, which is indeed very useful in this kind of sun. The UV index is 14! A UV index higher than 11 is considered extreme. In Brisbane, for example, the current UV index is 12, whereas german summers usually don’t see anything higher than 8.
Making my way back to the B&B was a bit tricky. Taxis are rare and strangely enough the drivers don’t seem to like far drives. Their names and numbers are listed in a leaflet and you have to call them directly. One of the Lagoonarium’s employees kindly lend me her phone (my smartphone does not accept any of the local providers and is thus useless as a phone). But after I was turned down by two and couldn’t reach a couple of others I decided to hitchhike instead. That’s not a big deal here, as there is only one road going around the island. Luckily, a local in a crappy Peugeot soon stopped, though driving the other way. He was going to pick up a parcel at the dock, thereafter returning to Haapiti, which is exactly where I wanted to go. As it turns out, Nico (coincedence, that he’s named like my brother?!) picked up a box full of mangos and handed one to me as a present. I love mangos! Needless to say I indulged in the sweet fruit right after he dropped me off at home.
Friday, 20 February. This is my third day on Moorea, the cute heart-like shaped island next door to Tahiti, French Polynesia. The first two days I felt virtually brain dead because of the heat. I still suffer a bit, especially now, at 3pm, when the sun is unbearable and there is no wind to cool me down, let alone water (it is bathtub warm). Don’t get me wrong, this place is beautiful! The volcanic mountains that soar behind me, covered by deep green rainforest. The turquoise blue water that I’m looking at right now, the waves breaking on the reef at the horizon. The tranquillity. The smell of trees and fresh fruits. However, all I can think of right now is an ice bucket and how much I’d like to empty it over my head… Look at the “Feel” section:
One hour later: I think I’ll have a cold beer now…
Three hours later: It is cooling down, sort of…
So what have I been doing so far? I’ve done some serious hanging out. I don’t mean reading a book or anything. I mean SERIOUS hanging out, doing nothing, thinking of nothing, waiting for the day to pass by. I flew in from Auckland – I stayed there just for the night (thinking how much I’d loved to stay in NZ). I probably was a bit wistful. I left Auckland on Wednesday morning, 18 February. Now here’s the weird thing: I landed 4h later at Papeete airport, Tahiti, on Tuesday, 17 February. Crossing the date line really is bizarre. I still can’t get the days straight. It was pouring with rain when we left the plane over the gangway. After all, it’s still rainy season. But the rain vanished as soon as it came and it hasn’t been raining ever since the first day. Europeans get their own line through the passport control and no stamp in their passport. Feels strange to sort of entering the EU so far from home (technically, French Polynesia does not belong to the EU, but its citizens are French, so it is EUish).
I caught the 5pm ferry to Moorea, Tahiti’s “little sister” and am now staying at a Family B&B, meaning that the guesthouse is on the same ground and next door to the owners family and his brothers family. Even though M. , a Canadian guy staying here, and me crave for spending some time in an airconditioned room at one of the beautiful (but very pricy) resorts once in a while, I am glad to stay where the real people are and to get a glimpse of how they live (surfing at the reef is a very important part – apparently there are some of the worlds best waves breaking along the reefs surrounding the islands).
Yesterday afternoon I took a bike ride along the road. The newer parts even have a bikeline, but the crappy parts have no tarmac and countless potnoles. The people are incredibly friendly. They remind me of the Malawians in that they waved at me, shouting a happy “Bonjour” along my way.
This morning we did a 4×4 tour with the owner around the island:
Tonight, we’ve had fresh Mahi Mahi from the local fish market (actually its just a small shop) for dinner. Luckily M. rented a Vespa – it is quite far and there is virtually no public transport.