After being anchored at the village for several nights, we woke one morning, pulled the anchor and slowly made our way toward the next island southwest of Mangareva. I believe Taravai's official population is eight – six adults and two children – though if you count non-permanent residents like pigs, chickens and goats, the population triples. Taravai is an incredibly peaceful place. The main “attraction” is the big church that sits on an tidily manicured parcel of land at the water's edge. Bees buzz around its aging stained glass windows. Branches of bougainvillea nod in the breeze. When we visited the church was empty, as it no doubt almost always is. But it is kept spotless nonetheless, with pews in perfect order and everything on the altar in its place as though a preacher and his congregation may wander in and begin mass at any moment.
Beyond the church a wide grass path cuts through a grove of bananas and papayas, which is maintained by Taravai's residents. We met one of them when we wandered into her backyard. She immediately welcomed us and invited us to stay. The yard was shady and quiet. Chickens pecked at coconut husks, a couple of small horses mulled around near the house, and piglets scurried in and out of the brush.
Lolo explained to us that she was only here temporarily, a sort of extended house sitting gig. She and her husband, who was out hiking for the day, were originally from France. They had sailed all over the world, most recently coming from Patagonia, and had become accustomed to life on the move. But then they sailed into the Gambiers and after some time in Rikitea, spent a few nights at Taravai for a change of scenery. She fell completely in love with the place. Now their boat sat an anchor in front of the house, looking rather bare boned and stationary. Lolo spent her days tending to the animals – including nursing a neglected horse from Rikitea back to health and fattening the piglets for slaughter (her weapon of choice was shotgun) – growing a vegetable and herb garden, maintaining the path and yard, and making jewelry from shells and coral she collected. I know it must get lonely there, that everyday life can't be easy and that there are downsides to that kind of life that I know nothing about, but as she was describing it while we sat there in the shade sipping lemonade, her life sounded pretty dreamy and surreal to me. When it was time to go, we left her with several baguettes and she filled our arms with plantains.
Later that evening as we puttered around in the dinghy fishing, the sky glowed a fiery orange and cast a golden light on the cliffs and rocks on Taravai's far side as dark clouds rolled in. Wild goats stood like statues on outcroppings above us as raindrops began to fall, distorting the visibility of the coral beneath us. Smoke rose from one of the houses and sank back down, settling into folds in the mountainside. We got a glimpse of French Polynesia's dramatic side for a few moments before the rain poured down and we sped back to the boat.