Article from our last Tahiti visit, May 2011 …
I am of the good fortune to be writing to you from the island paradise of Tahiti. I am sitting in a room overlooking a turquoise lagoon. I am here because 70 of our reader friends were kind enough to sign up for Lats & Atts Tahiti Sail and International Party. It is they that have made it possible for a few Lats & Atts crew, like myself, to come this far to join them in cruising some paradise. So thank you, Tahiti Sail ors. There will be a feature story next month with all the details of our Tahitian cruising adventure. But first, how about some background.
Paradise means different things to different people. When I hear the word paradise, French Polynesia is what I think of. The islands have all of the ingredients: warm clear air and water, majestic land, exotic natives, and an ancient sailing culture. For me paradise is a temperate place. A place where climate and culture require minimal clothing. Warm also describes the people. As you treat them well you receive the same. Of course, paradise should have a history of welcoming explorers who have crossed oceans to discover it.
Paradise might also include white sand islets and live coral reefs to provide for and entertain us. And the center island should be jagged and dramatic. No rolling hills here, that’s too easy. The land in paradise is steep and challenging, a breeding ground for waterfalls and adventure.
The weather is real. It doesn’t sprinkle, it rains. It doesn’t rain all of the time but when it does, it comes down thick, if only for a few minutes. That’s in the cool season. In the ‘off’ season, the odd cyclone sweeps through to clean things up and to provide the humans with some perspective. With much rain, the land only knows green. And wind. There would be a constant breeze, always there, like a good friend. A wind that keeps things moving, keeps things fresh, keeps things cool. A familiar wind that has fed a thousand years of sailing culture.
Paradise should not be so easy to get to or remain in, that it is overused. And it should not be overbuilt by profiteers. The French keep their islands remote and disabused. Paradise has a lot in common with French Polynesia.
And last, paradise would have great local dancing representing stories and feats of ancestors. We arrived in Tahiti as the great Heiva (say hay-va) event was ramping up. From my Tahiti Tourism info:
“During these celebrations, local dancing and singing performances as well as sports competitions and games take place over the course of the month. The first explorers, who arrived by sailing ship, noted the importance of these manifestations and the great fervor that the Polynesians had for these festivities. Later condemned and stifled by Christian missionaries, these extravagant displays of art and revelry have managed to re-emerge in the 21st century. More than just a simple festival, the Heiva I Tahiti has become a time of artistic sharing, technique, folklore and the symbol of a culture proud of its past.”
“Verdant valleys, azure skies and turquoise lagoons, everything here whispers legends of the “ma’ohi” people who discovered these crumpled lands, where the “uru” (breadfruit), the “fei” (wild banana), and the “taro” (tubercle) thrive … these generous islands whisper to us, ‘Maeva’, Welcome…”
We stepped off the plane to the fragrant warmth you only find in the tropics. The moist air carries the scent of frangapani. No need for covered boarding ramps here, just amble down the wheeled steps onto the tarmac. We were greeted at the entrance by ukelele’s played by seated barefoot brown people in brightly colored shirts. Beautiful vahines offered us each a Tahitian tiare flower, small and fragrant, to put over an ear.
After customs, Tahiti Tourism met us and placed lei’s around our necks and whisked us off to the Intercontinental. The first night I shared a room with skipper Adam, the purveyor of a Chicago bar where Jody spends her birthday every year. We got caught up on stories, sailing and otherwise, over a few glasses of Jack rocks.
Adam shipped out first thing in the morning. Him and Bob and Jody had over-water bungalows in Raiatea to get to. That was also where we would soon meet the boats. I had been pretty busy the last month with our group sail and other projects. So I was ready for some pre-cruise downtime. After a swim in both the sprawling pool and the salt water lagoon, I stretched out in a lounge chair to catch some rays. I figured I should at least look the part of someone who had spent 5 months at sea last year.
Eric Stone and his lovely Kim were my next roomates. Kewl, bunkin’ with rockstars. They had a car so we hit town. I exchanged money, got a local sim for my phone and a bought a black pearl on a necklace (don’t tell Dena, it’s a surprise).
Back at the room we three busted out our food finds and Frog wine and had potluck on our over-water balcony while the island of Moorea faded in the orange sunset. And we had plans. There was Tahitian dancing that night by the pool. I laid down for a quick nap before the big event (claiming jet lag more then age, if that’s ok). I woke around 9pm to a Tahitian beat and Eric and Kim passed out on the other bed. We’d have to catch the show the next night.
Eric and Kim left early the next morning on a circumnavigation of the island by car. I went back to work by the pool. And I explored the grounds. I imagine having an eco resort someday and I appreciate the different ways paradise is offered to the visiting traveler.
We did catch the local dancing that night. It was incredible. It wasn’t just some local music and a few dances the way I’d seen it before. This was a story played out for us like an opera or a ballet. It was local music and dancing with some narration in both French and English. The live music was made by hard working ‘musicians’ on ukes, skin drums and hollowed out logs. The dancing was hip shaking, foot stomping, and flowing arms artfully portrayed by young glowing tan bodies.
Late that night I borrowed the car and picked up Dena at the airport. Our old friends Glen and Sherry were on her flight, they too were joining us for our Tahitian sailing adventure. We dropped them at their hotel and finally returned to ours. At o’ too early we woke up poor Eric and he dropped us back at the airport.
In Raiatea, Dena and I found our slightly less palatial accommodations via Suzuki Samarai wagon with outdoor seating. Max was our French host. Our pension was a little single-wide high on the hill with a tiny swimming pool. It was clean and the view was spectacular, so we were happy.
I texted Bob that we were on island and they came and got us in his car. Bob, Jody, Adam, Dena and I went adventuring through the hills and valleys and shorelines of Raiatea. We ended up back at their over water bungalow for an off the deck swim. Nice. Two bungalows down was Doug and Wendy and friends from what would later be named ‘the naked boat’.
The next morning we got to the base where the work began. After, checking in and filling out paperwork at both Tahiti Yacht Charters and Sunsail bases, doing chart briefings and boat checkout, and directing 6 dozen people into the right boats, the hard work ended and our fun began.