Trouble in paradise

One of the defining looks to these steep, rugged islands are the clouds which seem stuck on top, parked on top and obscuring the peaks. There were also clouds of gray and white creeping up the hillsides above Atouna- but these looked different. Was it fog? Was it smoke, sent up from burning the island’s garbage at an inland dump?

Nightfall told another story. Orange flares we couldn’t see in daylight lit spots up the steep hillsides. It was hard to believe what our eyes were telling us: that wildfires were burning. Isn’t this the wet tropics? Aren’t we at the end of the rainy season? Can’t you feel the humidity in the air? Yes, yes, and yes- but there were the fires.

It seems that El Nino has brought drought. The gendarmes in town said there had been no substantial rain since January, during what should have been the bulk of the rainy season. It’s hard to believe, given how lush things are here, but there you have it. Those really were unchecked wildfires we saw. Too big to fight, they were being allowed to burn out their tinder in the enclosure of the mountains. Meanwhile: the view from the harbor is lush and green. Flowers bloom everywhere. Roadsides are lined by fruiting papaya trees

It’s such a sharp contrast with the experiences our friends shared with us last year. We heard about daily squalls throwing mayhem into the anchorage… boats closed up tight despite the heat and humidity to keep the rain out ended up dripping with moisture inside and out. And the bugs… oh, the bugs! Even our guidebooks, to a letter, go on and on about the volumes of mosquitoes and tiny “no-nos” that plague bugs.

We’ve had a couple of sprinkles, and two outright dumps (neither more than 10 minutes), but as the wildflowers attest it’s plainly not enough. Even the famed 300+ foot waterfall near Taiohae is dry. And bugs? We’ve hadly had a nip. OK, so maybe there are some silver linings…