Aute II, Wednesday 22nd of July 2009
At 10:00 we met Terii Vallaux – he seemed quite stressed (possibly due to the feed-in-tariff which was just recently introduced) but took a lot of time to talk to us (two and a half hours in total)!
He started his job in March with the new government (there have been 7 different governments since 2004) and says that there is a lot to be done. He mourned a bit about there not being much political will and private interests always dominating (not sure whether he meant the current government or the previous ones).
At the end of the end of 1980’s the majority of the ownership of Marama Nui, the partly-governmental company running the hydropower plants in Tahiti was sold off to Suez which lead to neglect of further expansion of the hydroelectric capacity – French Polynesia is still a minority shareholder, but doesn’t have the money to buy it back (Terii employed an analogy here: David and Goliath…).
EDT (Energie de Tahiti) is not in debt (meaning they’re ripping off the Polynesians – apparently (or according to the locals) electricity in French Polynesia is the most expensive in the world) so at least they are investing – they’re building Tahiti’s first sewage treatment facility (as appalling as it may sound: all the sh… (including all the harsh chemicals used for cleaning (here)) goes directly into the ocean) and Tahiti has a excess capacity up until 2020 – I am not too sure whether that is a good thing though… it could also mean that the dirty fossil power plants aren’t running at full load which could mean that EDT could try to suppress renewable energy development (this is mere speculation)… I think the feed-in-tariff will help open the market for renewables (other companies) and wiggle on the monopoly’s foundation a fair bit 🙂
Terii and his coworkers have created a plan for 50% renewables in French Polynesia by 2020 (and 100% by 2030). I asked about the time periods as I thought (or had read that) the second stage (from 50 to 100 %) would be more difficult to implement since more storage capacities would need to be expanded. He optimistically argued that technology will have developed by then so the last 50% would actually be easier to achieve.
When we asked about the transport aspect (which had been neglected in the study) he just replied that this wasn’t his métier but offered that he could put us in touch with someone from the terrestrial transport ministry (communication between the different ministries seems to be a difficult thing (here)). Terii also mentioned that he has bad experience with “le truck” – apparently the locals (including the bus driver) were all very unfriendly (only spoke Tahitian) and he also criticized that there are no timetables (I totally agree with latter point but apart from that we’ve always enjoyed our le-truck-rides).
Terii also shared an anecdote about getting a new fridge with us. He wanted an energy efficient one but couldn’t had to go to six different stores before he found one with a label (for the energy efficiency rating A,B,C,D,… which is obliged by law to be on electrical appliances in the EU – also in French Polynesia). Unfortunately there is a lack of executive staff to control and sanction such norms (this really rings a bell: environment ministry and rangers… I wonder where all the money goes… it’s not being spent by the ministries – at least none that we’ve heard of… probably it simply evaporates – strange).
Unfortunately (am I using this word too often – not that the reader gets the impression that I’m a pessimist – I wouldn’t be here doing this if I were 😉 Terii could not even give us a daily load profile – since it is intellectual property… of EDT!!! He doesn’t even have it himself – Raphael and I looked at each other and shared a feeling: shock!
At the end of our conversation he gave us a contact number for coprah oil factory – I really want to go and see how it’s produced! We also want to get in touch with someone from EDT to visit a hydropower plant and maybe ask if they would be so kind to share their intellectual property with us – for an independent study of course!
After this sobering meeting (no money, no staff, no data) we hitchhiked to Météo France in Fa’aa who are situated just next to the airport hoping to be a bit more successful in gathering useful/positive (or at least neutral) information. We immediately walked into the right office and one of the meteorologists there gave us a book with some meteorological data for French Polynesia (solar radiation, wind velocity,…) and Raphael made a list with specific data which he wanted in a digital format – in order to put it into a computer simulation. At least something worked out today!
We hardly had any energy left (it was really hot today – wonder how the people here survive the summer) but thought we should give the customs and immigration office at the harbor another try (following the advice I had been given by the harbourmaster of the Marina Arue yesterday). As we put up our Au-secours-RAIATEA-Help-SOS-sign outside (the office was already closed) someone peeked out the window. We told him about our situation and he looked up all the private boats going to Ra’iatea and found exactly ONE, leaving tomorrow: the Galahad! That immediately brought our hopes back up. After patiently responding to our questionnaire he offered to give us a ride to the Marina Taina (in a police van as it turned out – I can’t say that I ever had such positive feelings towards the police as during that moment). He (Carlos) asked about our plans for the evening and suggested that we could spend some time together – if I had been on my own, I would have gotten suspicious – sad that absolute kindness has become such a rare virtue (or has it always been and I am romanticizing the past – the good old times when I wasn’t born yet) – he said he would pick us up at the Marina after dropping off the police van to get his own car.
The Galahad was neither at one of the quays nor responding to it’s radio, so it had to be somewhere among the approximately 50 boats that were anchored off the coast. When a Zodiac came by, I put up my thumb and asked if I could hitchhike. When the boatman inquired where to, I could only respond “Galahad” – not knowing where it was. He was actually just heading for his boat, but took a detour so we could glimpse at the names of the boats. We had already lost the hope of finding it (we were already on our way back to the quay) when Raphael spotted it. The captain was away so I left a letter with our phone number.
Carlos invited us for a drink at a posh bar (Celine with whom we shared a dorm at the Pension Te Miti works here – this island really is small – you get to meet everyone at least twice) by the quay with the Zodiac – he still remembered the face of the captain. After about an hour we received a call. The captain (Flavius – a systems engineer (computer nerd) in his 30’s who has been travelling the world with his sailboat for 3 years) had found our letter and came over to meet us! I couldn’t believe it – he was actually willing to take two strangers aboard his ship!
After arranging a time and meeting place with Flavius, Carlos insisted on taking us for dinner (at a Chinese restaurant) before driving us home. We learnt quite a few new words in Tahitian and also, that he has two grown up kids and was born in the Marquesas. His parents were farmers and didn’t know how read or write – that really flabbergasted me (I had simply assumed he came from an educated background – it’s so easy to assume and take things (like education) for granted when you haven’t seen much of the (real) world, I guess).
Back “home” we tidied up the flat (in case someone else moves in while we’re gone), packed a backpack with the most important material things and assembled a few wind turbine parts (final assembly will take place on site for ease of transport) before going to bed (late).
Final thoughts of the day: Sometimes crackpot ideas actually work out! It’s amazing to wake up in the morning, have a relatively ordinary day and suddenly in the evening everything changes and then you go to bed and just wonder – had we been somewhere else at that point of the day… we wouldn’t be going to Ra’iatea tomorrow! Not sure whether I should believe in coincidence or not… Hope the reader can relate to this/understand my train of thought!
Just remembered that Terii suggested equipping public buildings with PV-panels – to set a good example.
Tahiti –> Ra’iatea, Thursday 23rd of July 2009
After having cold pasta and tomato sauce for breakfast (really early in the morning) we went downtown with Manuel who was slightly worried about us – I think he has heard too many stories about boats, drug dealers and weapon smugglers…
After picking up some drugs (just for our own use – against motion-sickness – at the pharmacy) we met Carlos who had a look at our passports and prepared the papers. Then he drove us to the Marina Taina again and quickly did the paperwork with the captain.
After boarding the Galahad, Flavius tidied up a bit (to make some space for us) and explained the “security features” of the boat: toilet with sea-water pump, life vests, fire extinguishers and motor.
Unfortunately there was no wind (only rain) when we wanted to leave (at about 11:00 am) so he switched on the motor (which uses about 2 litres of diesel per hour; the tank holds 200 liters, Ra’iatea lies about 220 kilometers northwest of Tahiti and our top speed (with wind) was about 7 knots – don’t worry I’m not trying to make this story more exiting by making the reader believe this piece of information will have any relevance later on – we don’t get stranded… in the middle of the ocean – what an elegant choice of words!).
On our way towards Moorea we saw a sea turtle and some very keen surfers (they had obviously used a boat to get there – I could see the “me too!!!!” on the back of Raphael’s head as he gazed over to them). After taking loads of pictures of the small wind turbine, the two photovoltaic panels, Raphael and Flavius, I went to lie down for a bit. After getting up from my nap I immediately felt sea sick. Luckily we had a bit of wind later on so at least we were spared by the smell of diesel. I stayed outside, underneath the small roof by the helm for the rest of the journey – was too afraid to leave behind some unpleasantly fragrant souvenirs of my presence (successfully managed to dehydrate myself – males definitely have an advantage when it comes to emptying their bladders over the railing).
The obnoxious feeling in our stomachs prevented pretty much any form of conversation, so there is not much to report for today… well the Galahad has two masts and was built in 1974.
Although we had an Autopilot (ribbed rubber band with small motor attached to the helm) connected to a GPS device our poor captain still had to come out and check/switch over the sail every 15 minutes or so (the next morning he looked rather sleep-deprived). We really were more of a burden than a help to him. I had a bad conscience, but my stomach made me egoistic (move as little as possible) and I wasn’t in any state to learn how to sail so I hugged the railing or bucket instead, while Raphael managed to keep an eye on our course – at least for a bit so Flavius could get some “sleep-shots”.
Final thoughts of the day: I must admit I had romanticized sailing a bit and couldn’t really enjoy the (falling) stars…
Was lying there wondering whether the Polynesians ever got sea sick, how many of them died on the way to find new islands to settle on and how they navigated when it was cloudy and they couldn’t see the stars.
Raiatea, Friday 24th of July 2009
After a rough and stormy night – and an admittedly beautiful sunset (it was so stunning that I couldn’t let go of the bucket) – we finally arrived at the “Ra’iatea Marina” where Flavius tossed out the anchor. I put on my snorkel, mask and fins and went for a dive (couldn’t wait to get off the boat) but the 29 meters were a bit too deep for me to go down so I only observed a few colonies of single celled organisms (? damn – I should have studied marine biology) and some barnacles on the hull of “our” ship.
Raphael called Nelson and we went ashore with Flavius in his Zodiac. After waiting for about half an hour Nelson’s older son Tauirai (who works in his father’s company) came to pick us up in a pickup-truck. We quickly stopped at the police station (the only one on the island which has about 10,000 inhabitants (according to the locals) and 8413 (according to our Lonely Planet edition from 2009 – and that’s including the population of the neighbor-island Taha’a which has roughly 5000 inhabitants – I’m such a nitpicker) but they were having lunch and told us to come back later. So Tauirai drove us “home” and we also had lunch, which his mother Suzie had prepared. Her other two kids Iotefa (who is currently home for his summer holidays – he’s studying Biomedical Science in Toulouse, France) and her daughter Vaiana (who is currently on maternity leave but usually works at the University of French Polynesia in Tahiti as a librarian), her boyfriend/husband (probably latter: they’re very catholic here), Xavier (a physics and mathematics teacher) and their baby are also visiting at the moment.
I had a bit of a bad conscience because we arrived so spontaneously (Raphael called Nelson only about 24 hours before our arrival to confirm our stay) and on top of that Suzie has the flu (not H1N1!) so I suggested we move into a hostel but she insisted that we stay with them since we had arranged to come well ahead of time… The welcoming and spontaneous way of life of the Polynesians really is something!
In the afternoon Suzie drove us to the Gendarmerie where we had to wait ages until the local police decided to put a stamp into our passports and also write something illegible beside it to confirm that the captain of the Galahad (Flavius) had safely “disposed” of us in Ra’iatea…
We weren’t up to much when we got back because we still didn’t feel quite stable on our feet. When Nelson came home from work he talked about his renewable energy plans here in Ra’iatea: he wants to install photovoltaic panels on the roof of his house (5 kilowatts) and possibly a small vertical axis wind turbine (now that the cost amortization period is significantly shorter – thanks to the feed-in-tariff). Raphael recommended a PV-producer in Germany and will get Nelson some technical and financial details…
Nelson is also envisioning an incineration plant for Ra’iatea (running on local wood (apparently there is an invasive plant here shedding a lot of biomass) and all the waste produced here (I don’t think that he took my point about waste minimization and discouraging recycling seriously)).
Hydropower would definitely be an exploitable renewable energy source here as well: there used to be a hydropower plant (and also some energy-self-sufficient houses running on PV-panels and batteries) on the island. This development had ironically been encouraged by the CEA (Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique) back in the 80’s. In the 90’s the community decided to connect everyone to the grid (which was later taken over (yes, taken over – not bought – by EDT!) and switch from renewables back to fossil fuels (devolution). Nelson promised to take us to the “ruins” – maybe they’ll be revived someday… soon I hope!
We all had dinner together with the family – around the big round table (Raphael and I really get along quite well but it’s nice to have a few more people around – especially after living on a hill for a while). We talked about culture and food and laughed a lot.
Ra’iatea, Saturday 25th of July 2009
Today I only did a bit of writing and helped Suzie in the kitchen – she has quite the hoard of people to feed now that her children, son in law, grandchild and we are here. In the evening we took captain Flavius for dinner to thank him and went to observe some more Heiva… I mean hip energy – it’s amazing how much even the little kids are already producing (maybe it’s because they’ve got so much freedom – apparently they decide where they want to live (with their grandparents, aunts, uncles or friends – among the numerous spectators (I guesstimate that at least a quarter of the population were present) the toddlers were moving from one arm to another across the hall)!
Final thoughts of the day: I bet the lurid/populist title of this blog entry lured a few readers into reading this…
Raiatea, Sunday 26th of July 2009
This morning Raphael and I learned how to scrub and fillet fresh fish. We went in the backyard and tossed around fish gills, guts and scales with Nelson.
Then he took us for an island tour (once around – approximately 120 km) on the way we visited the remainder of a hydropower plant (Nelson is planning on bringing it back online with his company), a Marae and picked some wild papayas, sweet grapefruit, bananas, chilies and coconuts. We kept stopping on the way and Nelson got out to get rid of the plants that were invading “his” power line poles (his company put them up). Nelson really is a work horse – he can’t even be stopped on a Sunday.
When we came home we had a very good lunch: the fish we had prepared in the morning, taro, three different types of potatoes, coconut milk and chili sauce – everything local and no pesticides – good food makes me so happy 🙂
After siesta Raphael and Nelson went outside to play on the road a bit… Nelson has quite the large machinery for digging/drilling holes in the ground – apparently the rain water flows down the hill across the road and keeps flooding his property. My arm muscles couldn’t compete with Raphael’s so I decided to work with my brain cell instead. I went into Nelson’s office (a container in the front yard) and checked my e-mails. We’ve received a response from the publisher promising that he would read Le Projet Tahiti – at some point.
Raphael just walked into “our” (Tefa’s (?)) room and suggested we stock our dirty laundry under the bed until the smell becomes intolerable. I don’t think this blog entry will get any better (let us not sicken as the plot thickens 😉
Final thought of the day: Ra’iatea is so much nicer than Tahiti (judging from what I’ve seen) and we feel at home with Nelson’s family. There’s so much life in this house 🙂