Christmas swing-set

We had guests over Christmas, so while the kids were overwhelmed with the usual abundance of gifts, I had a busy time in the kitchen fixing up our turkey for the 24th (yes, most french families do the whole big dinner the day befre), with taro stuffing, bread-sauce, seurettes confit (done up something to taste a bit like cranberry sauce), roasted yams, braised red cabbage, no brussel sprouts, tropical mince pies and a 'buche de Noel'. For the actual Christmas day we did a slightly more relaxed barbecue style meal. It was fun, but I'm enjoying a well earned couple of days rest before we have a Brit-style re-run on the 30th......
The girls had a great day, LOTs of rather silly toys, lots of princess girlie stuff this year, but the highlight was definitely the swingset that I got sent over from Tahiti - its just like Tahiti now that we have our own playground! 
It took Viriamu and Pierre (a manually inclined guest - what a stroke of luck!) a good while to get the thing fixed up and modified to their liking...
....with the assistance of a bit of Hinano
All in all it was a merry Christmas!


Matotea discovers Moorea...

Before we got swamped in Christmas cheer, the grandparents, the girls and I all took the plane over to the big smoke (aka Tahiti), before waving granny and grandpa back off to Wales, taking the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping at the same time as discovering the many and varied slides and playgrounds of Tahiti....
...we also took a few days out to pop over to Moorea, it was a bit of a nostalgic trip for me, and Matotea was just super excited about the whole thing - some of the highlights were taking the boat over to Moorea........
........going to our old favorite beach-spot ........
.......cheesburger and chips at the 'Blue Ananas' (as well as patisseries from Caramelines and 'Allo pizza take-out)....
.......before hitting the swimming pool....
...spotting dolphins....
....and just hanging out in our bungalow.......


The Christmas Tree!

As is our tradition, Viriamu and the kids headed up the mountain to
cut down a caribbean pine for our Christmas tree, then we loaded it
up with as many sparkly things as we could find, as well as cinnamon
star biscuits, chocolate baubles and later 'papillotes' (sparkly wrapped chocolate covered marzipans) gifts of our one of our guests, all the way from Grenoble! The pictures are not great but it is VERY shiny...........and Matotea loves it!!!!! She's been singing "Petit Papa
Noel" all day!


Pirate treasure!

Among other things, we spent a lot of time in early december making treasure-hunts for Matotea, I just happened to have a tonne of pinata pirate treasure in stock, so I thought it might be fun. Poor granny spent ages carefully setting the whole thing up, painstakingly drafting up treasure maps.

Matotea has seen it all on Peppa Pig, but had never actually done one before, she really loved having a map to follow, she enjoyed it so much that we had to re-enact the same treasure hunt multiple times!!!!


End of term!

School's out for the 'winter' break. Yesterday a rather young, trim, polynesian sunglasses-toting Father Christmas visited Matotea's school, giving out gifts for the kiddies. Now the trick is to stop her from opening it before the big day! There was a dance show and the obligatory after-show feed, as well......Matotea was super cute in a hessian dancing vahine outfit, but I didn't have my camera to hand :-( 
Instead, here are some photos from a couple of weeks back, of the 'Reo Maohi' week celebrations, we (me and the grandparents) got to take part in some of the traditional tahitian activities that the kiddes had been doing during the week....it was quite fun!
weaving coconut leaves, and of course learn the appropriate weaving song. 

getting hideously confused trying to learn to make a fish out of pandanus

trying out traditional power tools - an old-fashioned drill

playing a dancing game

watching a re-enactment of the legend of Hina and the coconut, 
Hina is played by Matotea's cousin Meisi (centre)

the obligatory after show feed

Matotea and her cousin Florida, not quite behaving!



We've been on a short break from the guesthouse this last two weeks, what with my parents visiting. It's a chance for a well deserved break from the daily grind. So, of course, I've been busy making jams and soaps and Viriamu has launched headlong into our building project. We're going to build a small house for us, just a little way down the road from our guesthouse, it'll give the kids (and me!) a place to kick back and make as much noise as we want! Who knows it might also give granny and grandpa a place to come and stay, when they fancy a break from the Welsh winter.
Anyway, Viriamu's already done a huge amount of work there, and with a little help from Tuati he's dug out the foundation trenches and laid them with stones and rebar..... 
A week ago he had a cement party with friends and family, helping to start lay the foundations.  It all seems to be proceeding quite quickly (at least for the moment), very exciting!


Heimana's great idea!

Hmmmmn...pushing yourself around on this thing is for chumps! If only I could find someone else to do it for me, my big sister for instance...
...or even better grandpa!

Tira wood

In Rimatara we visited the local technical high-school, where they teach handicrafts. I was very impressed with their wood-carving. They are using traditional Austral Islands motifs and hand carving some amazing pieces, mostly using tira wood, Melia azederach commonly known as Indian lilac or Chinaberry in english. It's a tree related to mahogany and has attractive, fragrant lilac flowers and poisonous fruits.
I'd never noticed it around in Rurutu much, but it is pretty common in Rimatara, it is clearly a nice wood for carving, but it is also used to make head-dresses out of the pith, Matotea is very obligingly modeling hers here....



We've just got back from a couple of days in Rimatara, the closest neighboring island in the Australs chain. It was a little strange being the guest rather than the host, but it was fun to have a bit of a break from the old routine. Rimatara is smaller even than Rurutu, just 8km square, with a population of around 800. Like Rurutu, the island of Rimatara is a makatea island, a volcanic island which has been secondarily uplifted, so it is a little bit higher than the atoll it should be (highest point is 85m above sea level!), it also has very characteristic limestone formations called mato, resulting from the erosion of the uplifted coral reef. 
Unfortunately the rather large shiny new airport, which was only opened a few years ago, was built on some of the last remaining relatively intact swathes of native vegetation, nestled in pockets of  mato. It was a mixed emotion being back. I had been there once before in 2004, as part of a ten-person scientific expedition to document the biodiversity of the Australs, but that was when I was a foot-loose grad student. We had arrived after a fairly memorable journey on the Tuhaa Pae, the Austral Islands cargo boat, which is not really built for comfort. We then spent the week hiking across the island collecting insects, camping out in a house owned by the mayor's family. 
The Tuhaa Pae, cargo boat
This time it was me with the girls and the grandparents, staying in two bungalows at the new guesthouse, still owned by the ex-mayor. Who would have guessed that I'd be back!
The island is probably most interesting for birdwatchers, as it harbors two endemic birds, a beautiful lorikeet the 'vini ura' which can be heard and seen feeding in the fruit trees as well as a rather less spectacular but equally noisy reed-warbler.
Vini ura, the Rimatara lorikeet, photo:J-F Butaud
The last Queen of Rimatara decreed that the lorikeet should be protected, which may be in no small part the reason that the bird is still found commonly in Rimatara, though the absence of the black rat, is probably also key.
The Royal Tomb, burial site of the last queen of Rimatara
The lorikeet population is so healthy that birds from Rimatara have even been re-introduced to the Southern Cook Islands (which geologically form a single island chain, though they are politically quite separate) known to  be part of the bird's historical range. In Rimatara, the lorikeet is everywhere you go.......