Raiatea and Rangiroa - Grafitti and coconuts??!

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Oceania » French Polynesia » Raiatea
April 25th 2019
Published: June 18th 2019
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‘Travelling’s not something you’re good at. It’s something you do. Like breathing’.– Gayle Foreman

It is traditional for the cabin stewards on cruise ships be skilful in the art of towel origami. These usually take the form of an animal such as monkey, dog, peacock etc and use a combination of bath towel, hand towels and face cloths to sculpt a shape to resemble the desire animal. Using a set of wobbly eyes brings the sculpture to life. Whilst we have only experienced a handful of these fun images during our ten years of cruising, on this cruise, Holland America have provided a different animal each night. We learned that each cabin steward has to be proficient in at least seven different animals and it should take no longer than one and a half minutes to construct even the most complex animal with the simpler towel images taking less than twenty seconds. These animals are usually found placed on your stateroom bed each evening (except the monkey which is normally left suspended from a coat hanger in the middle of the cabin and has, in the past, scared the bejeebus out of some of the unsuspecting passengers!!) However, not to the extent of this particular evening, where there was even a more sinister force at work. As we opened the door to our stateroom, we were greeted with a towel image that resembled the hooded form of a Klu Klux Klan member. On closer examination, this was perhaps supposed to be a squid or an octopus but for someone with reason to be of a nervous disposition in the company of such an image, it is surprising there weren’t more coronaries on board!!

This was now unchartered territory for us as we arrived at the first of our final four islands. Raiatea (still French Polynesia) is the second largest of the Society Islands, after Tahiti. The island’s name translates as far away heaven and is widely regarded as the 'centre' of the eastern islands in ancient Polynesia and it is likely that the organised migrations to Hawai'i, New Zealand and other parts of East Polynesia started here. Beyond the two storied buildings that lined the main street we could see clearly the green carpeted mountain’s that included the famous (well in French Polynesia, anyway!!) Mt Temehani which, thousands of years ago had a similar status as Mt. Olympus

The ship docked parallel to the main street of Utoroa, Raiatea’s principle town. A nice bit of parallel parking by anyone’s standards!! A small but well-kept green separated the ship from the main tourist office. From there, there were two exits; one leading out to a parade of local shop and from there the main street, the other exit to an artisan village. This contained a cluster of round mock Polynesian thatched rooved huts selling local crafts. These stores were set in their own gardens.

Whilst we were window browsing, we literally bumped in to Keith, the Liverpudlian, who now resides in Geelong, Australia and his girlfriend, Kerry, exiting from one of the shops. We hadn’t seen either of them for a few days as Kerry had been confined to quarters with a stomach bug although she was now over the worst of it. Yesterday, in Mo’orea, Keith told us that they had organised a rather expensive private island tour. He had paid the (undisclosed) fee direct to the operative prior to his holiday and although they waited some minutes before the agreed pick up time and a long time after, their tour guide was a ‘no show’!! So as not to have a wasted day, they then took a local excursion – snorkelling. Keith and Kerry were taken to a section of the reef. It was a grey day. This meant for a grey dive. The boat was grimy and the visibility of the coral was cloudy at best and cloudier at worst!! Not the best day of their trip so far. Trying to suppress a grin, I commiserated; ‘Oh, no! How awful.’ After we left their company and clearly out of earshot, all Roisin could say to me was: ‘You’re a rotten actor!!’

This was a pleasant little town. The main street consisted of gayly painted wooden colonial facades standing proudly alongside more modern rendered shopfronts. One of the buildings that caught my eye was the lime green boutique with a sign suspended from the upper façade advertising Jean Marc. However, I wasn’t sure if the store sold 501s and Wrangler or that was the name of the owner!!

A few hundred metres down the high street and the buildings became sparser as it merged in to the dock road. (it wasn’t really a dock road but it was the road nearest to the dock!!). The walls of a few industrial units had become victims of graffiti, in a good way though as these ‘works of art’ were the remnants of the Ono’u graffiti festival. Graffiti conjures up visions of scrawl over subway trains in New York. These are more like frescoes, created in a very short time. They were all very colourful and gave the port a pleasant uplift. Thanks to this festival, apparently Utoroa is now the second most graffitied city in French Polynesia, behind Papeete although this is not something I would put in the tourist literature. It doesn’t promote the kind of image associated with an idyllic South Pacific island!! Then the rain started and our time in Raiatea was cut short…

…Later that evening, much later in fact we witnessed the worst headline act we have ever seen. No, that’s probably doing Craig Diamond a disservice. More like the second worst act next to the overweight ABBA tribute act, several years ago, that I rechristened FLABBA!! He was billed as an award-winning master magician and funny guy. This Diamond was ‘rough’ at best. His act started with a ten-minute demonstration of sleight of hand using a mix of silk scarves, ping pong balls and balloons. Something associated with an average children’s entertainer. Great if you’re twelve!! There were only about twenty of us in the 10:30pm performance. Word must have gotten around from the earlier show. To be fair, the later shows have not been well attended but if another act says: ‘Is anyone out there?’ I’ll throw a chair at him and say ‘Does that answer your question?!!’

His next trick was the old bank note in a Lemon trick. This is the one where he borrows a dollar bill from the audience who signs the said bill before handing it over. After some chat where misdirection is used, he cuts a lemon open and surprise, surprise, the dollar bill is rolled up inside. If he had communicated with another act several days ago, Craig Diamond would have realised that the same trick had already been performed only using a tin of baked beans instead!! His finale was the glass/bottle, bottle/glass trick (sound familiar??). His trick started off with two hollow cylindrical tubes. A glass and a bottle were the only objects on the small card table. The glass was covered with one tube and the bottle covered with the other. When the cylinders were removed, the glass and bottle had changed places. As the trick progressed, confusion reigned and the trick started to go wrong (all part of the act) as more bottles appeared from under the hollow tubes until the table was completely covered with bottles. He performed the trick with pride as if he had created this masterpiece despite it being a signature trick by the master magician and funny guy, Tommy Cooper. Did Craig Diamond think that because he wasn’t wearing a fez we wouldn’t have recognised this comedy classic!!?

‘Travel is still the most intense mode of learning’. – Kevin Kelly

Next morning when we woke up the Maasdam had already dropped anchor off shore the French Polynesian atoll of Rangiroa, 454km from our last destination. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef or series of coral rims that encircle a lagoon either partially or wholly. The island consisted of 415 motus, islets and sandbars. On first glance of the map (see photo) I wondered how are we all going to fit on this tiny island but I understood that the atoll is between 300-500m wide and has a circumference of almost 200km, so much so, Rangiroa has its own horizon!! The population, at time of writing is 2,473; mainly spread over the three settlements of Tiputa, Ohutu and the village where the tenders dropped us off: Avaturu. Rangiroa is the second largest atoll in the world next to The Great Chagos Bank in the Indian Ocean.

Oh yes, one of those tender thingies again! Mrs H went out on deck after breakfast as was now the norm. It was a little choppy out there in the bay and the tender was, in my opinion, slightly rocking as it headed towards land. I tried to convince Roisin it was just a sea mirage; an illusion, but in her eyes, the sea state was like a scene from ‘A Perfect Storm’!!

The tender took about fifteen minutes. A few outhouses were dispersed across a gravel car park surrounded by tropical flora and fauna, that led to a main road. Well, it wasn’t just a main road. After walking for twenty minutes I realised it was the only road!! This was the northern part of the atoll that stretched for at least twenty kilometres. There were a few unmarked paths that led to the gardens of residents who live on this collection of coral. I ventured down one of these tracks. The temperature was 85C, hot and humid. I received a few acknowledgements and ‘Bonjours’ from a couple of passing children before crossing on to a grassed area. There was no fence or boundary but I had a feeling I had just wandered in to someone’s back yard!! The washing hanging on a line was a bit of a giveaway. It wasn’t the ‘frillies’ that caught my eye though. There was a huge pile of discarded coconut husks. These must have come from somewhere; they don’t just grow on trees!! I wondered what one family needed with some many coconuts. Maybe there is a cottage industry and the coconut shells were going to be put to good use. We all know how versatile coconut shells can be; they can be hollowed out and used as houses for small pets like hamsters, birds and hermit crabs; they can be cut in half, add a bit of string. Then voila! The world’s most impractical and uncomfortable bra!!

Despite the heat, Rangiroa is an easy walk. Easy but a little boring. The highest point of Rangiroa above sea level is, well..sea level!!! After walking for forty-five minutes, I had seen nothing more than a compressed coral road and track, palm trees, coconuts husks and a pair of knickers blowing in the gentle breeze!! Following the road around to the left, it continued for several miles along the coast where the surf continued to crash against the ever-eroding coral. It was time to head back to the ship. Nearing the port area, passing a small mini market that I’d missed the first time around, I noticed a sign for a hotel and restaurant called Les Relais de Josephine. An arrow pointed down a narrow track. Although in need of a nice cool beer, I couldn’t quite see the building of what appeared to be the only restaurant on this piece of the atoll. That meant more walking. My Fitbit had already registered 10,000 steps some time ago so the sooner I got back to the air conditioning of the ship, the sooner I could get my hands on a Blue Moon (the Belgian beer and not the astro-physical phenomenon!!). That was proven to be the right decision as later that evening I learned that there was a $50 cover charge to enter Les Relais de Josephine!!

Two more islands left to visit before we cross the equator then the long 7 day push on to San Francisco.

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