We're at anchor in the lagoon at the main
settlement of Rotoava, pop 701. This must be a wierd place to live. The island
is 25km long but only 300m wide, with a maximum elevation of 3m. There is a
delivery boat about every three weeks, and a flight to Tahiti every week. The
town consists of one road (bizarrely with a wide concrete cycle track either
side despite there being almost no traffic), a Mairie (this being France), a
Police Municipale (staff of two whom we met because someone stole my bicycle
wheel), a thriving primary school (because the main occupation seems to be
having babies), a small part-time health centre, three small shops, a couple of
snack bars which have so far been closed, one low key smart resort hotel and
three diving centres (because the diving here is absolutely world class), and a
few small pearl farms. And that's about it.
The local culture has all but disappeared. There
was a separate tribe in the Tuomotos, the Puomoto, with their own language and
religion, but the language has nearly died out. The religion has definitely
gone, suppressed extremely successfully (just how did they do it so quickly and
effectively??) by the missionaries; the island now supports two churches,
Catholic and Mormon. The young people speak French, and must go to Tahiti for
secondary school). And for some reason which must be deeply interesting
sociologically most of the businesses are run by Europeans.
It's a lovely quiet place, and a world apart from
the Marquesas. Because the land is flat the sky is huge, and it is much less
humid; and it rains less. But there is no variety. It's just coconut trees,
scrub and rock, for 25km. Apart from coconuts no food can be grown here so
everything is imported at huge cost.
The island is definitely French, and that brings
with it the twin benefit and disbenefit of social security. The locals can and
do live simply but adequately (as in the UK, every house has a satellite dish)
on social security alone, so why work? I'm sure this is a major factor in the
businesses being run by ex-pats. But they do tidy up, beautifully. the bins are
emptied every day, there is almost no litter, everything is swept and raked
clean, and every house has a neat garden with lovely tropical flowers. If only
we could teach our own UK population to behave so.
La France Profonde?
(Vulcan Spirit just visible behind