“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” -C.S. Lewis
It was just a couple days sailing to the Society islands which is what most people think of when they hear French Polynesia. We arrived in Tahiti just in time for the Heiva festival, a week long event of singing, dancing and all sorts of interesting competitions. We saw coconut opening, javelin throwing and stone lifting. We went to Pape’ete to walk around, looked at Tahitian pearls and checked out Pointe Venus which is where Captain Cook went to trace the path of Venus across the sun’s surface. We ate a lot (and I mean a lot) of baguettes and enjoyed using free WiFi at a cafe (which is almost unheard of in the South Pacific).
From there is was just a couple hour sail to Mo’orea. We were planning to stay only a few days but the winds were strong so we stayed a week until it was safe to head out. Mo’orea was my favorite of the Society islands. We went to a botanical garden and tried fresh jam, walked to a beautiful lookout over the bay, picked fruit off trees (we did this everywhere actually – when we found grapefruit I was practically making love to it while I ate. It would have been embarrassing watching myself) and ate more baguette (we were missing bread… and fruit and vegetables and nuts and tofu. Please anything but more oatmeal, white pasta and canned crap. Maybe the life of a sailor is not for me). One night we stayed up too late and I must have been worn down because I got a pretty bad cold (see above to what I’d been eating). But it was a great place to recover. Ez went for runs and we crashed the Hilton and used their Wifi. We had a lot of trip planning to do, plus Ezra’s parents were meeting us in Fiji and we needed to coordinate with them.
One night we saw a ring around the moon. We called it a “moonbow.” Later we found out it’s ice crystals that you can sometimes see around a full moon. We wondered if we’d ever see this again. It looked unreal.
By the time the winds had died down we were behind schedule and had to cut out most of our time in Bora Bora. We did get to check out the town and spent a day walking around. The lagoon was beautiful and while I would have liked more time here, I was actually glad we had traded it for more time in Mo’orea. It seemed more old school French Polynesia to me and I got a better feel for the culture. Bora Bora seemed more of a playground for high end tourists, not that there’s anything wrong with that, its just not what I’m after when I travel (I am also broke and would probably be ushered out of a high end resort. At this point showering was not a common occurrence). I didn’t get much time to explore the island though so I could be wrong. The water was beautiful nonetheless.
We spent six weeks all in all in French Polynesia and I feel like we really got to see and experience a wide array of islands and met many friendly people. This is a place we will probably never come back to and am grateful for the length of time we got spend here.
“The big question is whether you are going to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” -Joseph Campbell
It was a three day sail to the Tuamotus. The internet tells me they are the largest group of island atolls in the world. I thought I had made progress with being seasick but we hit rough weather and when Karin asked me to come up front and help reef (shorten the sail to slow you down), that was enough to have me hanging over the side. Let me tell you, being slightly seasick for 4-5 months is a great weight loss plan. I’m going to market this when I get home… I’ll be rich!
Honestly, sailing into the atolls I thought they looked a little creepy. It was a cloudy day and here were all these small barren and deserted looking spits of land. I couldn’t help wondering why we came here. When we got to Rairoia we walked around a bit and almost immediately Tatiana and Regis found us and invited us over for dinner. A local couple that were very friendly. You might call them the welcoming committee and maybe also the town drunks. We went to their place and had some drinks and conversation until late into the night (at least late to us sailors, like midnight). She told us all about their pearl business and its decline while insisting we drink Chet a very strong (and I think toxic) peppermint liquor. The next night she caught us again and this time invited us to her cousin’s house for dinner and a bonfire. This was a great night. We met a lot of people and were not forced to witness Regis drink wine straight from the box again (while riding his bicycle). The next night when Tatiana called on the VHF Ez and I bowed out, but the Swedes went off to keep “making a party.” There had been some Norwegians earlier that supposedly hung out with Tatiana and Regis for three days. Not to be outdone, the Swedes were off, and Ez and I got some much needed time by ourselves.
Before we left we wanted to snorkel the passage (only way in and out of an atoll). Ideally you do this at slack tide. We went with a Brazilian boat that arrived and drifted from our dingy over the corals. I’d never seen anything like it. It looked like a field of brilliant coral with channels running through. This was my first snorkel with sharks which was really cool but also made me nervous. The Swedes kept telling me not to worry, but the night before our host showed us his shark bite that made him afraid to swim for years (his job was a pearl diver and spear fisher) and the Brazilians were snorkeling with knives. Reef sharks are harmless… I’m still not sure I buy it.
On our way to Fakarava we had a scary night. The wind was really strong and this was the only time we put in all three reefs. In the morning we passed a freighter who told us the forecast would continue to be high winds. So we headed south to Makemo to wait out the weather. Here we swam to shore to look for baguettes and walk around a bit. We motored to the opposite end of the atoll the next day which was a task in heavy rains and someone always on the bow watching for coral heads to avoid. We had a drink once we made it to the other passage to celebrate. (At least Ez and I did. The Swedes, or the Sweets as we started calling them because of their love of sugar, had hot chocolate and a whole bag of marshmallows.) This was on the 4th of July and after a long cold day Karin made us an American meal with our limited ingredients… pumpkin soup and popcorn.
We finally made it to Fakarava! It had a beautiful pink sand beach, sharks everywhere (four always swimming around our boat) and baby black tips swimming in the shallows. We had a bunch of picnics, snorkeled the passage with lots of sharks, barracudas and Napoleon Wrasse. It was incredible! There weren’t enough sharks for the Swedes so we took the dingy out further in the ocean where we found a bunch of gray sharks. I jumped in for a minute to look but I was cold without a wetsuit and nervous of the current and bigger swells without any flippers on. (I had a good pair at home and was too cheap to buy new ones.) Oh alright, ALL the sharks made me a bit nervous too.
Our last night we had a bonfire on the beach which was a perfect end. I wasn’t sure that I really liked the atolls until we came to Fakarava and it changed my mind.
“Not all who wander are lost.” -Tolkien
On the 13th of June we arrived into Fatu Hiva which is part of the volcanic island group known as the Marquesas in French Polynesia. The first task at hand was not to crack open a beer and relax but to clean the whole boat top to bottom (literally, hours were spent scraping barnacles and seaweed off the hulls. I was tempted to eat it as salad considering my body had not consumed anything green practically for months. Do all sailors think fresh produce is not a necessary part of diet?). Besides this chore, there was a bit of an euphoric feeling after making the crossing and a few other sailors came over for dinner and drinks. Fatu Hiva was so beautiful I have a difficult time finding a better word to describe it. One day we walked across the island to the other village and back again, this gave us 21 miles to take it all in. It also gave us time to enjoy each other’s company and talk through our experience. Using our legs and chatting out of ear shot from anyone else was elating!
We’ve come to the conclusion that we want a very simple lifestyle. Sometimes we talk about buying land in another country (hmm, what worn torn country can we afford – joking!) and more recently a sailboat (maybe we should start with a rowboat), but we aren’t sure how or if this will fit into a simplistic life. Having more free time makes us want to reevaluate our lives back home. Fewer possessions (do I need so many books?), fewer commitments (maybe we should just stop working- this would free up some time) and more time just to enjoy life. We want travel to continue to be a part of our lives and we bounce around ideas of how to do this with a family.
The rest of our time in Fatu Hiva was spent relaxing on the boat, hiking to a waterfall, taking baths in the stream with flowers floating on the surface (you need to take advantage of fresh water when you’ve got it) and trading with locals for fresh fruit. We were invited over for dinner by two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, Anna and Collin on their boat Ithaka. They were a very grounded and kind couple that have really inspiring stories and experiences. They even made us some vegetarian food they were horrified to realize later they’d made with beef broth. Haha. No wonder it tasted so delicious!
Then we stayed a couple nights on Hiva Oa to check in. We visited the French artist Paul Gauguin’s grave and checked e-mail the first time in a month. Woohoo! We had what Ezra called WWWW (worldwide web withdrawal). There was no swimming in this anchorage as we were told tiger sharks were in the area and were relieved when we didn’t have to jump in to scrub the boat some more.
Our last stop in the Marquesas was Tahuata so we could swim with manta rays. It took us a bit of time to find them in deeper water but once we did it was incredible. There must have been twenty of them all feeding on phytoplankatan. They seemed pretty curious and I was a little alarmed when they swam right at me before quick turning away. They were incredible creatures! We took another swim, had a little picnic on the beach and that was our time in the Marquesas.