Approaching Tahiti by sea at sunrise was a sight to behold. Her craggy peaks emerged slowly from the mist, just as they must have for Captain Cook a very long time ago…..
On closer inspection, the capital Papeete was a veritable metropolis! The busy port that services the lofty green island welcomes large container and cruise ships, ferries, super yachts, and smaller boats like us. As we entered, we were amazed by an outrigger canoe overtaking us, doing in excess of 7 knots! Canoes remain part of daily life for many Polynesians, as well as being integral in the region’s history.
The airport is close to the port and the airstrip spans a small outcrop of land. Passing boats must seek permission to move past either end of the runway, so as not to hold up a plane by inadvertently being in the flight path!
After passing the airstrip twice looking for a spot to anchor while investigating marina options, we finally gratefully tied up in the Marina Pape’ete, smack bang in the middle of town. We were immediately aware of the early morning buzz of the city; people hurrying to buy baguettes, going to the market, exercising or going to work. What a change from the deserted motus we have been frequenting of late! We were so close to a pedestrian crossing on the main drag we could clearly hear the crossing instructions issued by the electronic voice; “rouge piton.” It became part of the soundtrack to our stay in the city, along with the strains of heartfelt and sometimes raucous karaoke!
After thoroughly enjoying a stint of city life in Pape’ete, we moved through several of the other Society Islands; Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa. Bora Bora was but 2 hours away, and while it is one of the most well known of the Society Islands, tourism and consequent restrictions for yachts, along with our limited time frame meant that we decided to skip it. Cue collective groan, led by my daughter Bonnie?
Many of the highlights of our time in the Societies have been city life, (Bastille Day!) and being involved in the boating community. Whilst the islands are beautiful, they are heavily touristed compared with the last two island groups we visited.
- Participating in an outrigger canoe race. We joined a small rally from Tahiti to Moorea and the festivities included canoe races, fruit carrying races, and coconut splitting, along with social and information evenings. Almazul teamed up with Estehr of Sweden and Zelda to join locals in a series of social races as part of a fun day organised for the event. The pre race coaching session was perfunctory, and it soon became obvious that “someone” on our team had missed that paddlers should paddle on alternate sides. Several shouted instructions directing number 3 to change sides went unheeded as number 3 could not hear the vehement directive. (Neither could anyone else TBH) We were not victorious, in case you’re wondering.
- Learning about pearls. We have seen pearl farms in the water, been to a pearl museum, and finally to a pearl farm to learn about the process of cultivating pearls. It was fascinating! Parts of a particular mussel from the Mississippi are implanted along with a tiny piece of black oyster lip, and then the host oyster begins to wrap the invaders in its beautiful mother of pearl. There are many stages, but that is one of them. Tahiti and surrounds produces 95% of the world’s black pearls, and they are available everywhere from high end boutiques to market stalls. One can even fossick around in boxes of loose pearls to find a treasure, from €1 and (waaay!) upwards. Just wow!
- Having a professional skipper aboard! Our friend Tim joined us for the rally for fun, and it was a nice day, despite almost no wind. The sun shone, and Moorea approached ever so slowly. “White line fever” materialised in each of us over the course of the race and observing its different forms was quite amusing. I got toey, and full of good ideas, with really no idea. Magnus stayed stum, apart from repeatedly expressing a strong desire for a folding propellor, while plotting to overtake our closest competitor, and Tim politely, then slightly more insistently made performance enhancing suggestions, culminating in gently tugging on the helm when required to gain speed. 😂
- Welcoming some local kids aboard for a morning. We had two girls and their grandma on the boat for a look, and for us all to get to know a bit about each other, to facilitate the development of friendly relations between Moorea locals and boaters. The girls had a good look inside the boat, drove the dinghy, and had a swim. Grandma had coffee and chatted with me about the island, the fisherman, and her work and family life.
- Cultural dance performances. At any kind of event or welcome, we were treated to a traditional music and dance performance. The elegant swaying women, and the fierce stamping men were always entertaining, even if the stories told by the performers were sometimes lost on us The pig dance performed by men elicited powerful grunts/roars from the performers. We were consistently impressed by the sincerity and energy with which the performances were delivered, and often the pure joy evident on the dancer’s faces was contagious. (More about dance performances below.)
- The Heiva festival. We arrived in Tahiti in the last week of the annual Heiva festival, and were lucky enough to go to a performance showcasing the winners of the singing and dance competitions that had occurred over the previous few weeks. It was absolutely spectacular. Hundreds of performers danced for many hours, accompanied by musicians on drums and other percussion instruments. There were dramatic costume changes and the costumes and dances were incredible; energetic, expressive and moving. There were three teams, each of whom had come from the outer islands, and were judged the best of the many representative teams. The festival also showcases traditional sports including horse sports, archery, canoe racing and fruit races. The fruit racing features men running a couple of kilometres barefoot in a loincloth, carrying 100lb of fruit tied on each end of a pole slung over their shoulder. Commonly competitors fainted at or near the end – they really gave their all. We watched several heats around a shady green park, and the overall winner was a lean young fella who required holding up by his family as he dropped his fruit over the finish line. He was among a mixed field of young and old, big muscular men and smaller wiry ones. Everyone roused a cheer, and the older the man, the louder the cheer.
- The Tahiti Moorea Rendevous Sailing Rally. We joined this fantastic social event organised by South Pacific Sailing Network, and as well a being a great sailing and social event, it introduced us to partners in the yacht services industry in Tonga and Fiji, to name a couple. The info sessions were very helpful, and it was nice to feel welcome in those countries before we have even arrived.
- Scooter Day! We hired an electric scooter and toured the entire coast of Tahiti Nui, visiting Point Venus and some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The coastal vistas included peeks of Tahiti Iti, the closest we would get to it. When we were lucky enough to be at an attraction where locals were also present, they made sure to point out any features we may have missed, and our experience was thus enriched.
- Another amazing drift snorkel, this time in the Coral Garden at Taha’a.This one was magical because it was quite shallow, and popular, so the fish were not shy, and often very close. A great opportunity to have a very good look at them, as we drifted along together in the same current.
- Visiting many archeological and historical sites, including ancient archery platforms. These stone platforms were set high in the hills, and warriors would compete to be the longest shot. Boys were stationed in trees at intervals along either side of the arrow’s trajectory and they would shout as the arrow passed them, therefore enabling the distance to be measured.
- Buying a fresh baguette early in the morning, as you do anywhere remotely French. I had try several times to achieve success, as I found, dismayed, that by 7.30 all of the nearby patisseries were sold out. But I loved hopping off the boat and striding purposefully through the city streets in search of our breakfast, and felt particularly pleased with myself when I stepped back into the boat with a crusty prize in hand.
- Discovering the treasures of the Pape’ete Municipal Market. Fresh fruit, veg, meat, fish, flowers, pearls, ukuleles, and all manner of clothing, bags and knick knacks.
- Kindness. Yet again, we experienced great kindness from another boater. I dropped my prescription sun glasses into the water in the marina, and at 10 metres deep, they were definitely out of my reach. A call out on FB resulted in a man zipping over in a dinghy, jumping in with a dive mask and hose, and retrieving them forthwith. As a bonus, we had a very pleasant and interesting chat afterwards. He would accept no reward, and we now regard this kind Dutchman as our own personal caped crusader, as he has saved us once before, with a “bike on the anchor chain” incident.
- The eye popping cost of laundry service – after schlepping many kilos of dirty laundry a few kilometres it’s back to the bucket method for us! It’s actually not difficult to do all the laundry in a big tub/bucket, including sheets and towels – but it requires a lot of water, is laborious and takes a lot of time. (I have some of that!) I’ve got the process of wringing it out and hanging it (securely) out to dry on deck down to a fine art, so the rate of attrition is almost nothing now.
- Being charged for two blocks of chocolate after making a strong conscious decision only to buy one to keep the food budget down. Aahh! Groceries here are not cheap, so the chocolate was a definite luxury – a bigger one than anticipated. I hope it tastes twice as nice!
- Walks! It seemed that every time we set off on a walk that ventured off a made road, we were destined for an “adventure!” Below are just a couple.
- In Tahiti we walked many miles in tropical rain, on and off querulous small tracks deep in the bush, backtracking, trying different small offshoot tracks; finally giving up and turning around. Lo and behold we found our destination on the way back! And yes, the view was worth it. The sun came out and we ate our meagre lunch of slightly soggy crackers and cheese gratefully, sitting in the pools of water our wet clothes made.
- In Huahine our friends from Estehr of Sweden accompanied us on a “short” 5 k walk that took hours, and involved vertical surfaces and wading through ferns as tall as us. Magnus kept checking the map as we were face deep in ferns or prizing our way through branches, only to confirm that yes, we were definitely on the track. When we finally emerged from the thick bush onto a road – it was like stepping into the real world again, as if it had all been a bad dream, the only reminders being scratched arms and legs and the odd twigs and leaves caught in our hair. At the precise moment we staggered blinking into daylight Magnus asked us how we had enjoyed our walk. Quick as lightning Ann- Sofie responded that she’d “just popped down to the supermarket.” How we laughed!
- Ann – Sofie provided me with another laugh that still gives me the giggles when I think about it. One day both our boats were moored near a town, because we needed to access the town’s gendarmerie to facilitate our clearance from the country. When I say ‘near’ I mean about 2 kms away, across open water, in strong wind. This means you get very wet in a dinghy, from waves and general bouncing around, especially as the person in front. The wet slaps in the face are surprisingly irritating- even when expected. I tackled the ride in a warm raincoat and hat, with a towel over my knees. Magnus is tougher – he just wore a hat. Ann – Sofie however had a different, much more effective strategy. She assumed the “Child’s position” (in yoga speak) on the floor of their dinghy all the way to town, thus avoiding much of the water that she would have faced if she were sitting up. What a good idea, and what a good sport! No complaints, just a solution. And a good giggle!
FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables! The cornucopia of fresh produce in Pape’ete was wonderful after a month or so on tins. Papaya, mango, avocado, limes – manna from heaven.
- Restarted yoghurt. The yoghurt I have been making had slowly developed a more sharp taste, which became a little tingly. I thought it best to start again, and did so using a small tub of bought natural yoghurt. We now have a mild tasting yoghurt usually of a good consistency. ✅
- Hommus. Magnus makes THE BEST hommus, and when we use a whole bag of chickpeas I am happy for weeks.
- Guava ice cream. Not too sweet, but interesting. A bit like pistachio ice cream is interesting.
- Chocolate cake served on Estehr of Sweden. Rich and moist but also light – delicious.
- Buffet of local food served at a restaurant as part of the rally. The poisson de cru was especially good. This is a coconut milk and raw fish dish, similar to cerviche – but it is my understanding that the fish is not cured in lime juice first.
- Baguettes! Fresh, lots of butter. 👍
- Yellowfin tuna, caught en route to Tahiti.
- Sampling liquor cabinet gems. Boats headed west seem to be hurriedly emptying their liquor cabinets, in order to meet the restrictions on the amount of alcohol permitted to be brought into Tonga, Fiji, and Australia. We shared the last of a truly ancient bottle of Limoncello that seemed to exceed its original alcohol content, and some delectable port from Porto on another boat.
- Rum tastings. Rum is produced here, and we have enjoyed learning a bit about the distillation process, and sometimes (not always!) the tastings. (IMHO vanilla rum smells MUCH better than it tastes!)
- We solved our furler problem. This was a great relief, as the genoa is our main engine at 140%. Some sail adjustments and swivel attention did the trick.
- Repair to solar protection on genoa.
- MORE dinghy patching – this time more successful than the last. 👍
THE SWEDISH STUDENT:
Jag är glad att kunna rapportera några framsteg! Kanske mer underhåll än nytt lärande, men bättre än att gå baklänges. Detta har möjliggjorts av två faktorer:
1; umgås med svenskar och lyssna, och ibland prata lite svenska och
2; Få lite “läxor” av en svensk vän! Jag har blivit utmanad att lära mig ett rim som innehåller många upprepningar av ett ljud som är mycket svårt för engelska som modersmål att göra.
I am happy to report some progress! Maybe more maintenance than new learning, but better than going backwards.
This has been largely dependent on two factors:
1; Hanging around with Swedes and listening, and sometimes speaking a little Swedish and 2; Getting some “homework” from a Swedish friend! I have been challenged to learn a rhyme containing many repetitions of a sound that is very difficult for native English speakers to make. (Thanks Blomman!)