Saturday, December 21, 2013

Huahine French Polynesia (The Rebel Island)

It's been a terribly long time since my last post. In my defense, I made an 8x12 ft painting, gave 2 artist talks, bought a house, and moved my studio to said house. But I am still going to post about each island and throw in a transcript of my talk about the French Polynesia as a reference. 

When I came to Huahine, I instantly loved the people and the way of life there much more then the previous island. It's not really a tourist island but it has the most archaeological sites and the people are very proud of their heritage as well as being the one island that never willingly became a French Colony. 

This was also the island where I was able to establish a contact person Dorthy Lubin-Levy who runs the beautiful Fare-Pote'e. She helped me with information, finding a great place to stay, and introduced me to some wonderful people.

This is at the Marae Paepae that was built in the hills so the people could be more protected from the colonists. 

I found the Marae Tefano to be really magical with the huge tree that is growing in the Marae. It is also hidden in the thick jungle hill of Mata'ire'a away from the colonists. I was lucky enough to have met a great American painter Melanie Shook Dupre and her Tahitian partner Cesar Delord who live on the island and he was kind enough to take me around the island and show me his favorite places. 

The Fare-Pote'e was really great to see. It is built in the traditional way with artifacts and Maeva people who weave and talk about their traditions. It was amazing how cool it felt inside.

This are all Maraes around the Fare-Pote'e. I visited several times to get different lighting. 

watermelon fields. 

These lava slabs are found at the outside edge of the islands. Huahine is unique because part of the coral ring is still attached to the main island so I was able to bike to the beach and see the slabs that they would stand up to make the Marae. 

Marae Manunu overlooks the beach. 

 Because of the small bit of land that is still attached to the outer ring, there is a long narrow bay that looks like a lake where the people still use the fish traps of their ancestors. 

These traps are stone mazes that the fish swim into but can't get out. 

The best snorkeling on the island was at an abandoned hotel. I was able to get in a few photos before a man started waving his machete around and yelling at me.

By a stroke of luck, I happened to be visiting during the presidential elections. They held the first round while I was on Huahine. It is great how they decorate everything with flowers, have music, and lots of food for the occasion. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Island of Moorea

I decided do a blog post about each island that I visited in the French Polynesia since each island was so different. Moorea has a sort of special situation to most of the islands. While Moorea is not particularly large and the tourism is way down (a bit shocking on the west side where most hotels, resorts, and store are abandoned and I was eerily alone for many hours), it is only 10 miles away from Tahiti so it has become a desirable suburb to the main island. 

This is the Opunohu Bay. 

This is looking back to the island from a Motu I kayaked to one of the days. In my mind, the kayaking was going to be a snap since it would all be done inside of the coral ring. I did plenty of lake canoeing in my early days, so what's the difference, right? Oh man, it was much further then it looked, plus there are massive drops in the water where it got very deep. All of that is fine because I have quite a bit of upper body strength. However, the kicker is that I was given a 2 person plastic kayak so it was very back heavy and I became convinced at one point that I was slowly sinking from taking on too much water. Add the motor boats that would speed past and knock me around and it got a bit hairy when I was somewhere in the middle of the lagoon. 

This is what much of the West corner of the island looks like now. After the old Club Med scandal happened, a lot of business's went under. I actually stayed in one of the 2 bungalows have been restored by some of the family that owns the Club Med land. It was an interesting experience because most of the family lives on the property with at least a dozen dogs. The bungalow was really nice and it's the best corner of the island, but sadly there is still a lot of work to be done, a lot of the property is still blocked off and many of the buildings will have to be torn down. But it is hopeful to see people reclaim it. Most of the time, the land isn't cleared or the parts that people want are auctioned and carried away (the bungalows are sold as homes) and the rest is left to rot in the tropical humidity. 

This is the view from my bungalow. For me it was everything that I wanted because I was on a research trip, but I would think that someone of their dream vacation would be very disappointed since you are really staying in an abandoned resort.

One of things I never got over was the quality of light right before sunset and sunrise. Someone later said that it was the humidity. It was one of the reminders that I was halfway around the world and below the equator.

This was from the far side of another Motu. Notice how dark the rock is. Lava rock.

Soooo much greenery. People were consistently grooming their lawns, gathering and burning the fallen brush and palm leaves after storms and cutting back the what is essentially a jungle (though not native to the islands). 

A public beach on the West side Moorea. This kid and the 2 dogs were the only ones on the whole beach. 

It doesn't take long for things to deteriorate in a tropical climate. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trying to Describe my French Polynesia trip

 *This is what most of my days looked like. Every society island has one main road that goes around the island with not much on either side other than a strip of land that prevents access to mountains on one side, and ocean on the other.

It has been difficult to describe my experience of the French Polynesia to my friends and family. One of the barriers is the mysticism that surrounds the idea of the French Polynesia is so deeply rooted in our subconscious. This is the very reason I proposed a project for the colonial territories but I find in describing my experiences I either talk too much about the hardships in my experience and what I saw, or I can't get people out of the faraway, dreamy idea of the fantasy. 

*Cooks Bay in Moorea. 

It's been getting easier especially now that I have my own perspective on what the experience was. One of the first things that I have to remind people is that I didn't go on vacation. I woke up before dawn to catch the early morning light and try to get a few working hours in before the crushing heat and humidity took over. I spent a lot of time (I mean 4-6 hours a day) walking, and biking around looking for places to take pictures. 90% of the time it was chasing a mirage because the view of the mountain, valley, or waterfall were too far for a picture, but close enough to taunt me to go a little further, just over this next hill, just around this curve, just up this funny little road.  

*This is a pamplemousse (french for grapefruit) farm in the hills of Moorea. 

Most of the time there is no way to see the ocean or get up into the mountains. It is maddening when you're in the extreme heat of the day, you've been walking for hours, the town that you were counting on to replenish your supplies has nothing, and you can smell the ocean but there is no way to get to it. Instead, you keep walking. A few times I went on a tour in order to see different sites. In these instances the tour was the only way to gain access to the area. It was interesting to meet people who were actually on vacation and hear what their impressions of the place was from behind the walls of the resorts. 

*The beaches at the resorts come from the coral gardens on the sea floor because there are almost no actual beaches. This is on Bora Bora 

That being said. The place is so truly different then anything on this side of the world. It is nothing like the Caribbean at all. The air is thick and smells like gardenia, jasmine, vanilla, and campfire. Palm leaves, remnants of coconut shells, and other brush are all piled neatly and then slowly burned. It is so moist all of the time that it really just smokes and you never see any actual fire. 

*This is a farm valley on the island of Nuku Hiva. 

The French Polynesia is described as a culture of beauty. Even the men wear bright floral (yes as in hawaiian) shirts or pareos. The women all have long hair and wear floral crowns for special occasions. Flowers are planted everywhere they will grow and they offer a pleasant contrast along the road.

*There were a lot of chickens. 

Steep mountains, cliffs, and valleys were all created by volcanos.  This gives the islands a spectacular mountain line. I couldn't make much sense of until it was explained to me that because there is no lime stone, the land is very soft and some of the landsides in the past were so large that it created a whole new smaller mountain line.   

*This is in the Valley of Kings in Tahiti. It is a favorite for locals because of   the cool spring coming from the mountain

Most of the islands are protected from the huge, wild Pacific with large reef rings where sand builds up into mini islands called motu's. You can watch dolphins play in the bays. Rainbows are common because it might rain two or three times a day during their wet season. This makes large magical clouds with dramatic lighting in the mornings and evenings. Anywhere that you can get into the ocean you can see coral, fish, eels, sting rays at night. 

*This is a private motu on Bora Bora. 

The French Polynesia was a definitely a once in a life time experience that has forever altered the way that I see the world. It was the first time that I went somewhere that is so different in every physical and cultural aspect. As a project about confronting the fantasy and reality of the exotic, I don't think that I could have profiled a better place to research.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Back from French Polynesia

My trip to the French Polynesia went very smooth. I never missed a flight and was never forgotten at an airport. Plus, finding my way around was easy considering that I spoke very little French. It is taking a really long time to sort through my 6000 images but I did get a handful of my snorkel photos from Ta'aha done. 

That is Ta'aha in the background and to the right is a super expensive and only resort on the island. 

Those are 2 red Octopuses. I was told that they are rare to see.

This was the best snorkel spot I saw on all of the 7 islands that I visited. It is in a pass so fresh ocean water is coming in which makes the water very clear and there isn't runoff from the rivers and is also very protected because it is on the far reef. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Packing priorities.


Tomorrow I leave for French Polynesia. My dilemma lies in the extreme restrictions when I fly the small planes around the islands. I can only have one checked bag under 44 pounds and my carry on can only be a the size of a medium size purse and 6 pounds. I did a lot of soul searching and youtube watching to see what I can really leave at home and be somewhat comfortable. I know that it won't be do or die if I decide that I can't live without something because I can buy it when I get there. However, everything in the country is very expensive (think $10 per pound of celery) because of how remote it is. I was inspired by Melissa Rachel Black's video on traveling. She traveled for a year with a small backpack through Asia and she made the only real minimalist packing video for a woman. I have to take more because of all of the art supplies, snorkel and camera gear. I have learned that you only need 1 change of anything because you just wash it every night. Classic backpacker I have found out. One of the things I am testing is if Dr.Bronner's  really is an "all in one" and if I can get away if only using argan oil for my face and hair. I have to take a lot of deet which I hate but I also hate Malaria and Dengue Fever and I will be spending a lot of time hiking in the jungle so I have a crazy little first aid kit with iodine tablets and dehydration salts just in case. I am also taking 6 sketch books, 2 cameras, and lots of gouache because you have to have priorities. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Research Trip to the French Polynesia

In a little over a week, I am going on a research trip to the French Polynesia as part of my grant project for the Minnesota Artist Initiative Grant. The purpose of the trip is to gather information by taking photos, making sketches, and talking with Polynesians about their culture, history, and political struggles. I will be hiking through valleys to hidden waterfalls, climbing up mountains, kayaking to outer motu's and exploring making notations about flora. It is a place that has embodied a sense of romantic, exotic wonderment for Westerners for over 300 years and has some of the most beautiful islands in the entire world. I became interested with the country with respect to my work when I learned about it's past of nuclear testing and the tension with the French government still controlling the country. It also contains the most important Polynesian archaeological sites outside of Easter Island. The marae ruins that are all over the islands are thought to be such very dark and spiritual places that Polynesians refuse to re-enact past rituals. Also, I am interested in how the rising acid and temperature of the ocean is effecting the coral life around one of the most secluded places on the planet. 

 *Photo: Tahiti Tourisme 

The trip will be 33 days ad I will visit 6 different islands: Moorea 5 days, Huahine 7 days, Raiatea 6 days, Bora Bora 3 days, Tahiti 5 days, and Nuku Hiva 7 days. Each island was picked for landscape and cultural significance. I am grateful for the length of time because it will give me the time to get to know each island (with the exception of Bora Bora but it is just a resort play-land and the island itself is so small you can bike around it in less then 2 hours) and explore without using expensive tour groups that will hurry past things that I want to sketch. 

*Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

Most of the people I've gotten into contact with on the islands so far have been very receptive to my project. Last year I came across the book Tahiti Beyond the Post Card: Place, Power, and Everyday Life (Culture, Place, and Nature) by Miriam Kahn that talked about all of the things that interested me about the country and the way tourism effects how the culture is perceived and how it influences the growth and change of the culture. Miriam was kind enough to put me into contact with Dorotea who runs the important Fare Pote'e Mavea Huahine. She will be teaching me about Polynesian culture and their past. Also, all of the places that I am staying at (with the exception of 1 night) are family lodgings and pensions. This means that I'll be staying  on the property of Polynesian families and will have close contact with them, and also use of a kitchen. The kitchen is important since a cheap meal can set you back at least $17. Lucky for me I can live off of instant oatmeal, tropical fruit, beans and nuts. Also being that it is a colony of France (yes a real colony with an elected Governor as a representative) there are always baguettes and good cheese around. Also, there are banana, mango, grapefruit, guava, coconut and passion fruit trees that grow in the wild so I plan on stocking up when I'm out hiking but there are fruit stands around as well if this proves to be untrue. 


All of this information that I am gathering will be used to create a large body of work about landscape of the Polynesian islands and will be shown around galleries in MN and include artist talks about the process and Polynesian culture. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Packing tips for a hybrid backpacker research trip

I learned a lot from our trip to Belize and Mexico about packing. It was a two week trip and each of us brought one carry one bag and a small backpack plus one extra small backpack and that was it. Most people would've had much larger suitcases for that long of a trip but we wanted to be very mobile without having to worry about huge luggage on chicken buses and such. In those small suitcases we brought lots of art supplies, notebooks, a backpacker blowup mattress, clothes for rainforest hiking, beach wear, medicine, and camera gear. We both kinda panicked when we realized that half of the clothes we wanted to bring would have to be left behind in order to fit all of our art related gear. However, we realized at the end of our trip that we could've taken even less and been just as happy because we just had everything washed halfway through the trip and some of our clothes were never even used.

Things I brought:

*2 pair of hiking pants(next time I'm bringing 1 since they are the kind that resist smells and sweat and I only wore them hiking)
*2 long sleeved, light weight, button up shirts(having 2 was great because they also work as swim suit cover ups and when it's a bit chilly at night)
*4 tank tops (2-3 is really all that's needed)
*4 t-shirts (2 is just fine, don't bring white)
*1 knit dress (I want to take 2 on my next trip because they are so easy and you can feel a bit more dressed up at nigh without the effort. Think packable, and cotton only)
*3 pair of shorts (only need 2, no sweat short or light knits. Think chino and denim. I made the mistake of taking these cute, light, sweat shorts to the Virgin Island and they looked terrible by the end of a long, hot day)
*1 swimsuit coverup (cute but unnecessary with the other button ups)
*3 bikini's (that was fun to have since I swam every morning in Mexico plus all of the cenotes but 2 would be better. Also make sure to have one bikini top that does not have halter straps because it can be hard on the neck when you wear them everyday)
*2 jackets (1 light weight rain shell, 1 jacket for at night)
*1 pair of flip flops (super comfy ones. I like reef because they have a bit of support and soft straps plus they never break)
*1 pair of classic keens (I know they are not cute but they comfortable, they can go in the water, and they are good hikers. I needed them for a caving trip that involved hiking, climbing, swimming, and lots of wading through rivers and everyone was jealous of my keens)
*1 pair of cute, comfortable, low profile sandals (great to have, think packable when choosing)
*1 pair of hiking boots (something that supports the ankle, waterproof, and good for HOT weather. These were great but I will leave them behind and just take my keens when I go to the French Polynesia because I won't have to worry about snakes and scorpions)
*Sports bra (much more comfortable when hiking and covered in sweat)
*lots of socks and under garments
*1 headband (this is great for preventing sunburn on the scalp, wicking sweat, and keeping the hair back. I liked this one a lot because it is a cool max that resists bacteria smells)
*backpacker blowup mattress (This was great to have at the $30 a night hotels. The rooms were clean, the people were nice, the beds were horribly uncomfortable. The backpacking ones are great because they roll up to be super small and only weigh 25 oz)
*Packpacker blow up pillow (this is a great alternative to those cumbersome neck pillows that take up so much space plus they pack to be tiny and only weigh 2.5 oz)
*Imodium AD, Pepto-bismol (they can be life saver)
*Electrolyte tablets (These Nuun tablets are amazing for hot weather when you are sweating a lot and they take up almost no space. Plus they are great when you are sick and lost fluid)
*Rehydration salts (didn't need but can save a life)
*Benadryl (You never know what you can be allergic to in a rainforest)
*Iodine tablets (in case you're lost in the rainforest or can't buy bottled water for some reason)
*first aid kit with compass 
*Lots of 30% deet bug spray (you have to use it unless you like creepy weird bites, dengue fever, and malaria)
*Plus lots of art stuff

Things I wished that I brought:
*a crushable sun hat
*snorkel mask (the rentals are terrible plus the best cenotes don't have rentals available)
*an umbrella (not for the rain but for the sun because it felt like I was being roasted when I was drawing in the direct sun at Chichen Itza)
*Anti itch stuff for bug bites


*Don't bother with much make up 
*Bring gentle soap like Dr. Bronner's that can be used for hair, face, and body.
*Biodegradable sunscreen is broad spectrum SPF, stays on much longer, and is the only thing that doesn't damage coral.
*Tiger balm will take the edge off of a bug bite in a pinch 
*Take a good amount of cash because nobody really takes cards even when they claim that they do

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Research Trip to Belize and Mexico Part 2

We took the new A.D.O over-night bus line from Belize City to Tulum. The A.D.O bus is much nicer then any bus I've been on in the U.S. and it the only major bus line to and from Tulum so we rode it quite a few times around the Yucatan. The only bad thing is the bus is really only an over night to Cancun so we were dumped in the middle of town at 3:30 in the morning. Lucky for us it was with a Canadian backpacker who was very fluent in Spanish because I was too tired to remember any of mine. So we got a ride in a cab to our hotel which turned out to be 4 miles (way further then I thought) from where we were dropped off. 

Of course it was worth it because we woke up to this everyday because our cabana was right o the beach tucked into the mangrove.

We stayed in a beach side cabana at the Vida Nueva de Ramiro that was complete with a porch and hammock.

It's a family run eco hotel set into the natural mangroves so they left everything as undisturbed as possible (They were one of the few places that did) plus they did work with the bio reserve down the road to help protect the sea turtles that like to nest in the area.

This is one of their lounge areas on the beach. It know, it was rough.

I'm not one to sit around long, plus it's a RESEARCH trip so here I am baking at Chichen Itza while I sketch the ball court. Dave was able to catch a rare moment where there wasn't a billion tour groups herding through.

We all know what this is. I wasn't very impressed because everyone makes such a big deal about it so I was expecting something taller but I saw much taller in Belize. However, it is interesting to see the influences of other cultures such as the Aztecs in Chichen Itza. 

They did have some well preserved statues though, but you couldn't get close to anything.

We rented bikes and went over to the Gand Cenote which is only 2 miles out of town. It is actually very small, but you can rent snorkel gear there and the cave is easy to navigate. It was fun and great relief from the hot sun.

I'm smiling and waiting for my juice but I was really sick from a salad I ate at an American hotel restaurant the night before. 

This is what our evenings looked like

I loved the limestone rocks in the area. This is where the locals and the birds would go to catch their fish for dinner every night.

Coba is really spread out so you go around the different areas by bike. Luckily for us, most people just go to the big temple that you can climb and maybe a couple other things before they call it a day. This makes a lot of the smaller areas relatively tourist free. 

That building in the shot is part of the Mayan Tulum ruins. It is a pretty little site and the beach attached to it is great even with the crowds. Most people won't go past the ropes though so it is easy to get to get some good pictures and enjoy yourself.

When we first got to Tulum the small waves tumbled you around like a washing machine until you swam far enough out. The hotel owner explained that it was because of the full moon. Sure enough by the end of the week, their were no waves and the water was completely clear to the bottom.

You can never have to many sunrises