Published: March 10th 2008March 6th 2008
'''Nothing on Tahiti is so majestic as what faces it across the bay, for there lies the island of Moorea. To describe it is impossible. It is a monument to the prodigal beauty of nature.''' - - JAMES MICHENER
Moorea is, by far, the most gorgeous, peaceful and tantalizing island I have ever been lucky to visit. Following a three hour sail from Tahina marina, we sailed into Cook's Bay on Tuesday afternoon and anchored fifty meters off of Pao Pao, population two grocery stores and fifty dogs. Towering 900 meters to our right was Mt. Rotui, Mt.Tearai to our left; both striking peaks of lush vegetation and craggy rock formations- a rock climbers dream come true. Though misty covered in the hushed early mornings, they offered comfortable shade when the sun is high and picturesque backgrounds during the pink, yellow, and purple setting sun. If one looks closely, Mt Tearai has a tiny hole at the top of it's massive peak, about the size of a human head though I was never close enough to try. According to legend, the hole was made by the legendary god and hero, Pai. When the God of Thieves attempted to steal Mt
Rotui in the middle of the night, Pai threw his spear from Tahiti and pierced the top of the Mt. Tearai. The noise woke up all of Moorea's roosters who put a stop to the viscous plan and the mountain was saved. (having been witness to the commotion and early morning banter of Moorea's roosters, I have no doubt that this legend has some truth to it.)
The island dogs are friendly and expect a bit of peanut butter sandwich when we row to shore. It is Lexi's mission to feed every starving dog in French Polynesia and she is well underway to succeeding. There is often as tribe of smiling, downtrodden canines happily trotting behind her down the dusty paths. Dad refuses to adopt one for fear that our Chicago dog, Beau, would feel neglected. Besides a new fluffy playmate, Moorea has much to offer visitors (if you can ever stop staring at the amazing topography that is). From lagoon tours, diving with sharks/rays, pearl farms or island tours, 4 wheel driving and hiking, the list is endless. I tend to steer away from tours or anything commercialized when I travel (though I did partake in some
SCUBAing with sharks during my last trip to Moorea). Therefore, I take plenty of walks and hikes alone, finding that this is the best way to meet locals and see the sights without interruption or marketed solicitation. From time to time, I'll hitchhike if itís possible to get a ride. Rule of hitchhiking: if you are alone, you will get picked up much more quickly than when traveling with a group of four or five. Smiling helps; waving widely increases chances and standing in the exact center of the road will almost guarante a ride.
My wanderings in Moorea took me inland, away from the single curvy road that winds entirely around the island. I happened upon several small villages where life plods along at a leisurely pace and the hordes of tourists, ferries from the mainland, and the English language are forgotten. Mothers sew on front porches, a group of young adults play soccer, an elderly man climbs a tree to cut down some ripe mangoes, and two mechanics dig along the road to find a water pipe. I shared some candy with the later two and they sat in the shade with me to take a
quick break from the scorching sun. We didnít get much further than ìbonjourî with my limited French and nonexistent Tahitian. Afterwards, they helped me flag down a passing pickup for a ride back to town and bid me goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. All in a days work
Pao Pao school sits right across the road from our anchored QQ. Afternoon physical education consisted of an intense session of rowing practice. Twenty to thirty kids of all ages haul huge outriggers into the water, wade into the bay, jump in and soon disappeared out of sight, followed closely by their instructor (in a motor boat of course). Forty-five minutes later, they hastily returned from their ocean excursion, breathing heavily, smiling hugely, and dripping with sweat and sea. We sat on QQ and cheered on our favorites, all the time wondering if they had decent showering facilities before returning to English class.
Speaking of hygiene, three weeks into this sailing expedition has taught us a few important matters when it comes to staying comfortably clean on a yacht such as ours. Take showering for instance. The showers on QQ are approximately the size of a small
tile, similar to the type you have in your kitchen or upstairs bathroom. Now, imagine standing on this square with a sticky shower curtain wrapped around you, the type that constantly hugs your legs and torso no matter how many times you bat it away and curse at it repeatedly. Within the square, you must bend, twist, and stretch into contortions that I never thought possible in order to properly pre-rinse, soap, scrub, and rinse from head to toe. You come out holding your breath and feeling like one of those little cars after itís shoved through an automatic car wash. Since water is a sacred matter on a yacht (almost as sacred as a cold coke during the mere six hours before your cooler ice melts), we are limited to about one gallon of H2O for showering purposes. I honestly don't think that my hair will ever be truly, truly clean or that I'll manage to shave all the hard to reach spots on my legs.
Now, as we are all familiar in the #1 way of showering (see above), some of us have moved on to PLAN B. Though probably not the best option, but certainly
mentally healthier for us seafaring warriors, PLAN B is an exercise in public performance. Those of us that are now well conditioned with PLAN B are on the lookout for any available water taps, hose hook ups or the ever all exhilarating actual shower head when we visit a new town. So far, we have showered on the public beaches of Moorea, during the middle of dinner hour in downtown Huahine, on the marina docks of Rai'atea, and on the visitorís warf in Bora Bora. I think we may have hit rock bottom when we showered behind the community center or Taha'a while the local ladies were having their weekly hula dance practice, all in the name of clean fingernails and unsalty skin.
Sadly, we bid Moorea farewell and sailed on toward Huahine, one of the last true Polynesian ports available for yachts. Commercial cruise ships often bypass Huahine for, honestly, there isn't much to do in this one horse town. Kick back, relax, sip a beer and watch the sunset with American expat, Joe, or any one of the teeny bopper, surfboarding types that hang around the docks at dusk. Tropical fruit stands line the streets, beautiful dark
skinned woman flaunt blossoms behind their ears, and I can walk the entire mainstreet in approximately 45 seconds. Two days here and the bony, jovial man on the cement bench knows my name and greets me with a shout. Isolated beaches lie twenty meters from anchored QQ, a mere jump and a swim from the bow of the ship (not with the outgoing tide though as my sister soon found out). Needless to say, we had plenty of snorkeling time around the coral bottoms and turquoise waters of Huahine, making sure to stay plenty clear of QQ when the toilet is being flushed has been a well learned lesson for all aboard.
Raíiatea and Ta'haa, both seen as huge lumps on the horizon from Huahine, became alive as we finished the one day sail to our new island destinations. (or rather a one day motor for we havenít seen any wind to speak of yet). As we slowly puttered into the channel, we could see waterfalls plummeting into darkness in the island's interior and hear drums beating in the distance. I liked to think that the drums were from a local tribe celebrating a special occasion or enjoying
a ritual cannibalistic sacrifice but dad tells me that I have been reading too much Stevenson. For those of you without an imagination it was actually a show put on for the tourists along the pier. We weren't the only ones wanting to visit the islands so I can't be selfish. Two large cruise ships were also moored in Raíiatea's harbor and the town was overrun with map yielding, fanny pack carrying, boisterous tourists. We left after one afternoon and quickly escaped over to Ta'haa, a neighboring island with a raw, untouched atmophere.
As we motored close to Ta'haa's frangrant shore, not a single soul was seen and the island was oddly hushed. White birds flew in and out of trees and an occasional fish flopped near the rocky edges. We decided to tie QQ up at an abandoned dock right next to a beautiful red, white and blue church built smack dab next to the waters edge. As we tightened QQ's ropes, some locals finally appeared to inquire and help, directing us to the nearest convenience store and providing local information. As the afternoon progressed and the sun started to set, QQ was overcome with visitors of
every shape and size. Across from the church was a community center that soon became full of twisting and gyrating hips as the women had their weekly Tamare practice, a dance quite similar to the hula dance. Apparently, they elected me to babysit their children and QQ became 'Ashley's Daycare Center'for a few hours. Ten little ones climbed, jumped, swung, explored, peeked, and discovered all of QQ's nooks and crannies. They bounced on the nets, played hide and seek through the hatches and practiced steering QQ towards Bora Bora, the next lump on the horizon.
I won't give too much detail on Bora Bora as I was sadly disappointed with the island. The lagoon surrounding the famous atoll is indeed beautiful, a deep sapphire, unlike any water that I've ever seen. However, the island itself, the locals, the bloody tourists and their cruise ships, and all of the unneeded fanfare was too much for my previous built up image of the glorious paradise once imagined. The crew did make a visit to Bloody Marys, the overpriced, sand floored bar often visited by celebrities and other rich and famous. Many beers, rum punches, and bloody mary namesakes later, we had
made best friends with everyone in the bar and dad had signed up some hopeful crew members for the next leg. (right??!!?)
Back to Papeíete to stock up on supplies and down to Tubuai. We are all looking forward to the little, almost forgotten island of Tubuai. Don Travers and his beautiful wife, Area, will greet us and we will spend a wonderful week in their delightful company. Dad presumes that it will take QQ approximately two nights/ three days to travel the 340 nautical miles to the southern island. One can only hope - - we have had some upset tummies, headaches, and a few hours spend hanging over the railing in the most recent overnight trips. Perhaps some prayers to the Polynesian gods are in order???
There are more photos below