The word “Tahiti” is usually associated to white sandy beaches and coconut trees but it takes just one stroll through it’s capital, Papeete, to draw a different picture. Papeete is just like any other city with traffic jams, a McDonald, and all that comes with “civilization”. It is perhaps the old ladies confectioning crowns and necklaces of fresh flowers on the side of the road, the kindness of the cashier at “Carrefour” or the men playing ukulele on street corners that give a twist to this city. At 6 o’clock sharp every evening, a plain square is turned into a lively open restaurant with the arrival of about twenty “roulottes” (vans equiped with a kitchen) and their tables. For entertainment: children running around, an old lady passionately singing and playing a coconut-carved mandolin, a spray paint artist making landscapes come to life. In July every year, all is about “Heiva”- an important competition of Polynesian tradition. Through pirogue racing between the islands of the archipelago, dance, music, and even story telling competitions, the Polynesian traditions are passed on from generation to generation. In Tahiti, we definitely feel the passion of the youth for riding waves and especially pirogue racing. Quite often, Kazaio was tailed by a couple of young men in pirogues, riding the surf of our boat to try to obtain maximum speeds. In Papeete, we wore our crowns of fragrant flowers to honour the hundreds of dancers and musicians on stage. The orchestra on its own was a show, with string and percussion instruments never seen and heard before. Dancers of all shapes and sizes in costumes of leaves, coconuts, straw, flowers, and shells moved in and out of groups forming tantalizing patterns on the stage. In harmony with the graceful arm and hand movements, the long black hair of the women swayed gently while their straw skirts vibrated energetically. The performance of the men was less impressive and not nearly as powerful and fierce as the Marquesans. In the market place, we discovered the many gifts from mother nature: jewelry made from seads, shells, bones, teeth, and black pearl. We smelled the scents of sandalwood, vanilla, gardenia, ylang-ylang, coconut, curcuma, frangipani and tamanu in all kinds of oils with various properties. The displays of exotic flowers were magnificent with the sweet smell of tiare (gardenia) overtaking all others. We admired the cut of the fish, mainly white and red tuna, and savored the traditional Tahitian raw fish salad.
In Tahiti we fell for a beautiful volcanic beach of fine black sand but it is the landscapes and hues in the other islands of the Society Archipelago that made a strong impression. In Moorea, the imposing Mount Rotui drops in cascades of green to the cristaline shores. Neetly seperated rows of pineapple plantations contrast with the scaterred folliage of the flamboyant trees hoovering over the dense forest canopy. In the valley, cows graze in open prairies next to some locals playing “petanque”. There is no real nice beach in Moorea as there is an unfortunate road that circles the entire island. In the shade of coconut trees, we still created an ideal painting workshop and playground for all the boat kids (16 kids at once!). With these boat families we have been traveling with, we raised our glasses loudly to “being here and now” and to “meeting again somehow, somewhere”. In the waters of Moorea, we got literally “kissed” by large sting rays who have become used to being fed by people. Tristan screamed in ecstasy each time these graceful and friendly dancers popped up at the surface to rub themselves to us. To add to the show, there were a handful of black-tip reef sharks roaming around at the same time. But the big finale in Moorea was a lucky encounter with whales while we were in the dinghy. We swam with 3 humpback whales and listened in complete amazement to their chanting. Gonzalo shaked a little more when he looked straight into one of the giant’s eyes. To top it off, one of the whales breached several times, showing us her pink stomach, bumpy skin, and finally her majestic tail. What a privilege to live this moment!
In Bora Bora, we found lovely anchorages in very shallow depths (between 1.8 and 4 meters) and with stunning views of the green mountain sprouting from the turquoise lagoon. The children loved diving to the bottom to grab handfuls of sand and swimming to reefs with thousands of “Nemos”. Apart from a huge barracuda, we did not encounter any big fish but once in a while that makes for a more relaxing swim. We sailed to Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa but were not taken by these places- perhaps because we did not spend enough time to really explore them. Instead we lingered in Maupiti and savored our last moments with our friends on Zorba before our routes diverge. The passage through the pass had our adrenaline pumping because of rollers breaking at just a few meters from the boat (and to say those were favorable conditions!). A hike through the lush forest and a climb up a rocky spire brought us to a breathtaking panorama of the lagoon with waters so clear we could follow the eagle rays fly between the hues of blues. From our boat we followed a huge manta ray to a spot where five others were twirling around a coral head. With our scuba gear on, we sat at the bottom of the water, and watched the most spectacular ballet of manta rays, sometimes having to duck down to avoid a blow from the gigantic wings. In Mopelia, I would have brought back the entire beach in my bag but contended myself with a collection of peculiar pink and purple cowry shells.
As the strong current rushed us out of French Polynesia in the hair-rising passage through the pass of Mopelia, we waved goodbye to this beautiful territory that did not cease to impress us. Undoubtedly, these moments were so memorable thanks to the visits of our family and friends that came from so far: Tito, Barbara, Jo, Flo, Lily, Jasmine, Julie-Marie, Richard, Gaston and Marie. After 6 months between Marquesas, Tuamotus and the Society islands, our little family closes a chapter and embarks for another adventure 1100 nautical miles away in the Kingdom of Tonga.