Travel among the blue and the green of French Polynesia's islands
02.04.2013 - 13.04.2013 30 °C
Ia orana my dear friends,
Have you ever heard names like Tahiti, Papeete or Bora Bora? Well, they are all here: French Polynesia - or better, "paradise on earth". A large number of islands, divided in atolls such as Society Islands, the Tuamotu or the Marquesas. For a Swiss boy like me, these places are extremely exotic, not only because of the opposite landscapes compared to my dear mountains and white snow, but also because they are at the extreme point on planet earth - 12 hour difference. This also means that my world tour has reached the half of it, at least in a geographical perspective! Moreover, these islands usually have an aura of inaccessibility due to their unique branding: luxurious islands, on which you either stay in an over-water bungalow or... well, no real alternative. However, it is possible to enjoy this natural paradise even in a backpacker style, always looking for the cheaper solutions. There are many family-run pensions at affordable prices (still way higher than what I paid in South America, but also incredibly cheaper than an over-water bungalow), in which a small kitchen will allow you to save some cash on the food! Still, even buying groceries at the supermarket is expensive (the brie (cheese) and the typical french baguette are cheap though), and I want to be honest in saying that 11 days here count as much as more than one month in any other place. But one should also remember than no other place is like this!
Being coherent to my concept of discovery, I tried to explore as much as possible in my short period of time, but still have the time to enjoy myself. I opted for an island hopping ticket offered by the local Air Tahiti, a great deal! Even though some more external atolls are described as lagoon paradises, like the Tuamotu, I decided to limit my visit to the Society Islands, let's say the "famous ones", both because of time and money. The tour consisted in 3 nights in Huahine, 2 in Bora Bora, 2 in Maupiti, 2 in Ra'iatea, 1 in Mo'orea and... 2 nights in the airport of Tahiti! I had a different experience in each island, that I used to describe in my travel journal with three words, something that I'll also use here as headline for each island. To make it more interesting, I'll keep the best islands for last:
Ra'iatea - unexplored, motu & Japan
Ra'iatea (and the annexed Taha'a) is one of the biggest islands and one of the administrative centers. I arrived late at night and left early in the morning, so I had one day only to visit it. Well, I spent the morning surfing the internet trying to catch up on the North Korea situation (unknown to me before), as South Korea and Japan were planned as part of my travel (more on my decisions about it at the end), and so hours spent sending mails to company airlines changing flights & the usual business. Finally ready to discover the island... a storm came. So, with only one afternoon available, I decided not to visit the main attraction of the island - an archaeological site, but instead got myself a kayak and paddled till the motu (islet) in front of the bay, and enjoyed some nice sun and white sand beach. I mean... why not?
Mo'orea - bays, fruits and no sun
As you could imagine, the shorter the stay in a place, the more difficult it is to appreciate it. If you add up that there was no sun, in a place where the bright green of the peaks and the deep blue of the sea and lagoon make it special... that's a shame. Even if I could not appreciate the full beauty of the island, I was nevertheless impressed by the bays that are surrounded by these steep mountains, and fantasized about their looks with the right light. I did however had a great juice of fresh ananas and papaya in a secluded place uphill, that I reached with a bike. But before that, I discovered the existence of this beautiful hidden cascade, and spent a few minutes refreshing and playing with the camera. This meant using my backpack on wet rocks as a tripod, setting the longest timer for the shot so I could run on the rocks, assume a wanna-be-cool position and hope for the best, which means: I don't fall in the water, and so doesn't the camera!
Tahiti - coco, surf and airport
I arrived the first day at 00:55am at Tahiti, so I slept in the airport. I left today at 7:30am, so I slept again in the airport. At this point, if you know I am in Tahiti you can come and look for me in the airport, I am a permanent resident! Anyways, the first thing I did in Tahiti the day I arrived was come to the central market of Papeete, the main city, where I got invited to try the different products of the coconut: the mature coconut, the coconut water, the coconut milk, and then... they told me to go buy a fresh piece of tuna. So I did, and they very kindly prepared me the famous poisson cru avec lait du coco (raw fish with coconut milk and vegetables) and... the miti fafaru: raw fish left 15 min to absorb this liquid: sea water in which fish was left fermenting for a month or so. It was like eating the smelliest french cheese while holding a dead fish in my hands right under my nose. YES, it's that strong - not many foreigner ever try it after having smelled the bottle, I ate it at 7am for breakfast as a real tahitian. Luckily there was some coconut milk (fresh and fermented) to dip it in! Call me "buongustaio" or simply stupid, they are both true.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at a nearby beach where there was a junior surf competition going on, and the atmosphere was definitely one I like! A shame that I cannot surf that good (or at all for what matters), but I got some nice show by the boys over there:
This reminds me of the only thing I wanted to see in Tahiti: Tehaupoo, one of the sickest waves worldwide, where in August the Tahiti Billanbong Pro is held. However, i did not manage it as the buses here are quite unreliable and scarce, so it was either get to the wave (not breaking that good today, and from afar) or leave today for Auckland. Well, I guess I will have to come back someday!
Bora Bora - central peak, luxus & fake
The beautiful Bora Bora, there is nothing like it. Ita central peak is simply majestic, and cannot be compared with any other around. If the sun is shining, colors will shine brightly, and you'll get everything you wat for a postcard: a great green silhouette immersed in azure waters, and it's just it: paradise.
However, this is also an Island i was happy to leave after two only nights. The reason is... luxus turism. This is the place where all the overwater bungalows are, expensive restaurants, and especially people that left their home and came directly here just because "it is Bora Bora", not caring about the real polynesia or the places they are visiting: they will walk in corals, shout around in a quiet beach, and just be a bit more arrogant than tourists in other places. This gives the island a totally different feeling than the others, and it's a shame. I got used to say "hi" to everybody on the road in Huahine, here I got an answer rarely... well, these are the two faces of Bora Bora. But hey, it's not that if they offered me one of these bungalows for free I would say no!
The only time I let myself go and told myself "cmon, this time is well worth it to go on a lagoon tour around this beautiful island, with the bike you might not get the view!"... it rained like hell. A very strong storm hit us after 20 min we left the harbour (at that time looking like a sunny day). So yeah, I saw almost nothing and paid a lot. But I got to feed some rays in the bay, which goes against my principles of environment preservation but it was also educative on some level, so that people can really appreciate closely the beauties of this wild places:
Huahine - authentic, bicycle & private
This was the first island I visited, and I fell in love. I stayed in a nice little place where they gave me a bungalow for me alone, with a nice kitchen, and a small private beach where I could enjoy the sunset with a cold beer or having the owner, a dude from California that fell in love and married a Tahitian 30 years ago, teach me how to open coconuts.
Just this would have been enough, but the whole atmosphere in the island was simply great. I went around it all with a bike, sweating like hell, but always with a smile on my face, that was the result of the locals smiling to me! I met a local artist with which i engaged on a discussion about art and spontaneity who very nicely drew a tiare on my travel journal, i visited a farm for vanilla and got some really good-smelling sticks to put in the rum when I get home, or even visited a pearl farm in the middle of the bay! At the end of the second day I met a bunch of kids jumping from the bridge - of course, I had to join!!!
This is the Va'a, the traditional canoe used in French Polynesia, and also the main sport. You can see loads of people training for the big events in the morning and the evening, paddling around the lagoons:
Huahine is a place that is very simple, and for this reason beautiful. It is one of the only places where I found a place at the beach on my own, and where the ratio between the number of tourists and the locals is still bearable. Huahine is definitely among the top islands of my whole Polynesian experience!
As a side note: the tiare is the white flower that is worn by the locals on top of the hear: open if a girl, a blossom if a man. Additionally, people say that if you put it on the left you are with someone, while if on the right you are single and looking for somebody! However, it's something that is not followed anymore (was it ever?). Anyways, i used to look for a tiare in the morning and wear it as well =) Another flower that is used is the Hibiscus, but this is only for girls:
Maupiti - welcoming, lagoon & food
Ah, the jewel. This is it, the real paradise. A small island, the most distant from Tahiti among the Society Islands, with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. As soon as I arrived, I got m first flower necklace ever! Everybody in the airports always gets one from their tour or hotel operators, but me, travelling independently, I never got one. So, when Tehei from the pension was there greeting me with a huge smile, we started with the right foot. When we jumped in her boat with her husband (the young couple running the pension) and offered me a Hinano (the local beer), I knew i found heaven! This is the stupidest smile ever, but I was really happy like a child!
But the surprises were not over: I did not know that I had the dinner included in the price of the room, and boy how much did I ate of that delicious homemade food: white and red tuna sashimi, duck cooked the oven with a delicious sweet and sour sauce, uru fries (a fruit), tuna bigné, and so much more!!! Simply delicious. Me and the other few guests usually sat in the kitchen with a beer while Tehei would prepare the food, and sing tahitian songs with her husband, to then sit all together as a family and enjoy the food! It really was a great atmosphere, but the island itself provided us with some great moments: the first sunset all together for Tehei's birthday,
snorkeling with manta rays and enjoying a calm lagoon while drinking coconut water (that I did provide with my great coconut opener skills)
Or climbing up the central peak and get this amazing view of the different tonalities of blue and azure of Maupiti's lagoon.
Similarly as Huahine, what I got in Maupiti was not just a nice island to look at for its sceneries, but also a very personal experience, and this is something irreplaceable.
This was my experience in Polynesia. Very short, but enough to give me a first impression of this amazing place. I feel very lucky to having had the chance to make a stop here, and gather some sights and experiences i will difficultly forget!
Now is the time to move on though. Where to? New Zealand!!! It was planned in the beginning to stay just a few days there, but my decision to probably avoid visiting South Korea for the moment (given that crazy fool in North Korea wanting to shoot missiles around), gives me the time to extend my visit to a country that has always fascinated me (especially from the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy)! This will also give me a few more days to follow the development of the situation in the Japan area, so to keep my travel worry-less as it should be.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and that you will keep following my adventures, right now I am not travelling away from home but slowly getting closer to it, and to you all! I look forward to see you all very soon,
p.s. feel like posting some more pics!