Monday, July 18, 2011

Farewell to French Polynesia

Our time in French Polynesia is almost up which means we will have to move on from this amazing place. Most people would be ecstatic at the prospect of a 2 week holiday here, but for me the remaining time seems infinitesimal and I feel we have rushed through the whole country. If you have been able to keep up with us on you will know that we spent a month in the Marquesas, a month in the Tuamotus and now our last month in the Society islands - each with many islands and very different from each other. Too much to see within the time constraints of our 3 month visa!

My most memorable experience in the Marquesas was the ‘tattoo’ I now have on 3 fingers as a result of a rather nasty bite from a Moray Eel. I was lucky it did not get infected, but nonetheless it was frustrating to be kept out of the water, especially while Rob was off snorkeling with manta rays. There was plenty to do on land, though, and the rock spires and pinnacles that these islands are famous for provided a visual feast. The most famous of these is at Fatu Hiva, in a place now named the Bay of Virgins. When the missionaries arrived, they renamed it from the original Bay of Penises, but as we watched the gyrating hips during the seductive dances here, it was clear that nobody was fooled.

The Tuamotus, just 300 miles away are quite a contrast with not a rock in sight. These sandy atolls barely rise above sea level, a ring of tiny islands of swaying coconut, surrounding impossibly blue lagoons. Finally my moray eel bite had healed, but now Rob was unable to enjoy the crystal clear water due to an infection under his toenail, as a result of just a tiny nick. It was not until he pulled the toenail off (eeewwww!) that it began to heal. I reassured him that he would not have enjoyed the snorkeling anyway, since there were always sharks present in these waters, something he is not comfortable with. I admit that my normal tolerance for these creatures was stretched and several times I retreated to the safety of my dinghy. I never tire of the gorgeous water colors in these atolls, and despite what some people say they not all the same. We visited 4, large and small, some uninhabited, and some with pearl farms. A fitting image as we sailed away was the last sliver of moon at sunrise, with the entire sphere outlined like a Tuamotus black pearl set on a gold crescent.

Tahiti was our first shopping stop since Mexico, and we were glad we decided to spend our time there right downtown. We were on the spot for the Hieva Festival events. Canoe races were held right in front of our boat, so we sat in our deck chairs on the wheelhouse roof to watch the ‘river’ of 140 canoes at the start line. Dance shows in the evening were a spectacle of fire, feathers, glittering mother of pearl and intricately woven coconut fibres. The scent of the brightly colored flower lays and elaborate flower crowns worn by the audience was intoxicating. One of the most moving experiences for us was the unveiling of a monument at the nuclear testing memorial site. We had no idea what was happening – we just heard drums at sunset and went along the waterfront for a look. A small well-dressed Polynesian crowd was gathered, and speeches were all in Polynesian so we understood little. Forty-four beautifully carved and painted drums were arranged in a circle. The drummers were oiled and tattooed, wearing traditional costumes with shell and feather headdresses. The sound of these amazing instruments reverberated right to my soul. Although the words were meaningless to us, the emotions were clear and we both felt something important was occurring around us. Later we read the inscription that dedicated this lovely wooden sculpture to those affected by nuclear testing.

The Heiva festival is winding down now, a month long event leading up to Bastille Day. The small, non-touristy island of Huahine was a great choice for the parade and dancing on the national day to party. It was a real community event, and a visiting group of professional dancers from Wallis livened up the show. We will spend a few more days here before finishing our travels in French Polynesia with a visit to Bora Bora.

We anticipate being back in New Zealand by the end of November, spending the remaining time in one of our favorite places, Tonga.