Rhum de Taha’a

The resort on Motu TauTau with Bora Bora in the background seen from Baie Tapuamu on Taha'a.

The resort on Motu TauTau with Bora Bora in the background seen from Baie Tapuamu on Raiatea

We like the island of Tahaa. It reminds us of Huahine: fewer tourists, fewer resort bungalows, life seems to be lived at a lower key than elsewhere. A few larger, obviously more expensive homes dot the hillsides but, for the most part, houses are modest and neatly kept. Villages dot the islands like occasional beads on the perimeter road that threads around the shoreline. A village may have its small general store, but most carry just the essentials on their shelves: bread, a limited selection of dry and canned goods – including the ubiquitous corned beef, toilet paper, soap, maybe a few fishing lures and a shelf of engine oil. The main village here on Tahaa, Patio (pronounced Pah-TEE-oh) has a bank with an ATM, but the ATM keys are rusted and rust surrounds the rim of the dead screen – obviously this ATM has not worked in a very long time. Fortunately for us, as we were running low on French Polynesia francs, there was a post office just down the road. All post offices here in French Polynesia seem to have working ATMs outside, and the postal service gives a better exchange rate on withdrawals than do any of the commercial banks.

There is a story behind our visit to Patio looking for currency, and it entails our search for a wifi connection

It all began with motor sailing up the lagoon that surrounds the islands of Tahaa and Raiatea. We are working our way up the leeward side and exploring bays and anchorages on these two islands, both of which are part of the Leeward Islands of the Society Islands (as is Huahine). We were aiming for an anchorage on the northwestern side of Tahaa but, while passing Tapuamu Bay – a very sheltered bay with a small commercial port – we decided to stop here instead.

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Port quay for Tapuama Bay.

There is a very small village here; one general store, what looks like a school, the port’s small warehouse and offices, a Total gas station, and maybe a pension or two. And Domaine de Pari Pari, owned and operated by Laurent Masseron. This is a small distillery that also produces organic essential oils from coconut and tamanu nut, and vanilla. We stumbled into it while we were searching for the source of a strong wifi signal we saw from our mooring in the bay. The source was identified as “Pari_Pari” and, using our binoculars, we could make out a sign with these words, partially screened by trees on the other side of the bay. So … this morning, we rowed the dinghy over to investigate, thinking we might find a café or snack shop with wifi. What we found was this small distillery.

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Laurent Masseron showing us the driers for the Tamanu nuts. These nuts are the source of an essential oil reputed to be very good for the skin. Sort of like aloe vera or cocounut oil. Smells nice an feels good on the skin, but is bitter to the taste.

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The Pari_Pari distillery interior. Sugarcane juice is in the process of becoming rum in those stainless steel tubs. Laurent gets a new, custom pot still from Germany delivered next month so that he doesn’t need to ship sugarcane juice to Tahiti for distillation in another company’s pots.

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A Makita drill is used to turn the expressor for nut oils. Efficient for a small operation, and inexpensive. Oil drips out of the trough to the left. Nut meat is extruded in to the pan in front.

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The green machine is the sugarcane expeller. It crushes the cane and squeezes out the sugar juices. Laurent is on the right.

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The diesel motor and open belts that drive the sugarcane expeller. The pulp and juice that comes out of the green grinder.

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Laurent explaining some of the finer points of sugarcane cultivation. We were surprised by the many different varieties of this giant grass.

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The end product of sugarcane juice distillation and fermentation – Rhum! His artisanal operation produces some very nice rhums.

An enterprising small business man, Laurent’s primary interest and knowledge is in distilling rum from pure sugarcane juice. In his previous life, in France, he worked in the wine business and understands the importance of terroir and careful attention to every step of the production process, whether for wine or for rum. He talked to us about the different types of sugarcane, the importance of the type of soil the cane is grown in as well as how it is harvested, and the high quality of German-made stills. We talked about the Oregon wine country (he is familiar with Eyrie’s operation as well as a few others). He knows Clear Creek’s label and products quite well. At the end of a very leisurely hour, he took us to the “tasting room” for a sample of two of the rums he is producing. These are fine, smooth and fragrant rums. We had purchased a bottle of his 40-proof Rhum de Tahaa at the Carrefour store in Papeete. I wanted to buy a bottle of his 50-proof. For slow sipping on special occasions, mind you. BUT, we were running low on currency and he isn’t set up yet to run credit cards (these are islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean). And so, the search for an ATM.

Laurent told us he had an errand to run into Patio later in the afternoon, and offered to give us a lift as we could find an ATM there. So we rowed back later and got a ride – and more interesting conversation – with Laurent to the ATM in Patio. And we bought of bottle of his Rhum de Tahaa for the boat. It seemed like a fair deal to us.

On a different topic but in the same location, as we arrived in Tapumau Bay and settled to our mooring, a small Tahitiana ketch nearby was just leaving. The single-handed skipper steered his boat near Velic and called out to us: He was from Port Townsend and had seen our hailing port of Portland. He was leaving to sail directly to Tonga. We’d seen this distinctive boat, Ness, at Marina Taina when he came in for fuel. Maybe we will cross paths again when both boats are in Tonga next month.

Philip heading out to Tonga on Ness, a Tahitiana 31 like Yare.

Philip heading out to Tonga on Ness, a Tahitiana 31 like Yare.

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We were given this freshly hand-woven basket full of bananas and pamplemouse by the nice Taha’a Commune employees who greeted us at the dock and took a fee for the mooring, with smiles. Moorings are a good idea. The bays are very deep (think volcanic island fiords) bounded by very shallow coral shelves. Moorings are safe, protect the marine environment, and create income for the sponsoring village.

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