14 September 2016 | Papeete, Tahiti
When we talked with friends from home about our impending voyage west from the Tuomotos to the island of Tahiti, it felt like an "ah ha" moment for many of them. Most of us grew up associating Tahiti with picture-perfect images of the nearby island of Moorea (and perhaps Bora Bora), rather than the island of Tahiti itself, or the broader collection of islands comprising the "Society Islands" within French Polynesia. Much like the Marquesas and Tuomotos, most folks are not familiar with the other islands that make up the Societies (Tetiaroa, Huahine, Raiatea, and Taha'a). Conversely, our fellow voyagers are well familiar with Tahiti and, even more so, with the primary city here, Papeete. For our friends on boats, Papeete typically brings up: (1) boat projects (work); (2) a dirty, noisy, unattractive city. In short, we weren't hearing much love about this port of call that was to be our first stop in the Society Islands.
Luckily, we've been quite surprised to have a much different experience. After spending months in remote places, we had our share of smaller projects that we'd been saving up, and we had limped along with our batteries since we were in Nuku Hiva. Taking delivery of our batteries did not go as smoothly as hoped, but it provided an education for us on several new levels. As for the city...for starters, Rob and I both like cities,and love to explore what they have to offer. We love the quiet and tranquil island settings experienced over the past four months, but we had also been looking forward to a change of pace. Oh, and we LOVED the idea of being in a marina for a short while...water that comes out of a hose to wash the boat; toilets that flush; showers where water spurts out above your head! And we had an added bonus to look forward to -- coming to Papeete meant that Kate's visit was finally here!
Our arrival in the big city was a bit surreal. The downtown marina is adjacent to the Port of Papeete - the primary port for all of French Polynesia. The airport is also within eyeshot, with the daily arrivals published in the paper. The more we've learned about Papeete, the more impressed we are. Papeete is one of the most remote cities of its size - lying mid-way between the West Coast of the Americas and New Zealand. Their reliance upon cargo ships to import supplies -- not only for Tahiti's 250,000 inhabitants, but also distributing supplies to neighboring Society Islands the more distant Marquesas, Tuomotos, Gambiers -- is nothing short of impressive from a sheer logistics perspective.
A lovely "promenade" follows the edge of the waterfront, providing awesome people watching. This strip of waterfront greenbelt is used by thousands of people a day - young, old, locals, tourists...jogging, walking, pushing strollers, but is also frequented by lunch-goers, high school couples seeking a place to press up against one another, and a few folks who make it their home. The promenade also seems to facilitate a focus on health consciousness for the city, complete with a par course. One day, we happened upon a giant Zoomba class, consisting mostly of women, with a handsome "Richard Simmons" type of celebrity from France man on stage. The city itself if not particularly "clean" by any means, but it is full of life - commerce, food, entertainment, and people from all walks of life.
Kate was indeed a sight for sore eyes. We had a total blast. She's the first one of our family/friends to visit us since Carah spent time with us in Mexico. And, as Kate had never spent any real time on the boat, we were a bit apprehensive (she shared that she had similar thoughts). But she totally stepped into life aboard! She got herself organized in her berth and, just like when she was a babe, she didn't stop until her head hit the pillow every night. This girl's got amazing energy and though we were much more active when she was here, we also had wonderful time just hanging on the boat. When she left after 10 short days, both Rob and I felt a bit empty.
We rode scooters around Moorea. Despite the fact that none of us had ridden scooters before, we survived. No surprise, Kate was in the lead 100% of the time! We challenged ourselves to make the best Mai Tai. We spent a full day hiking to the top of Belvedere (10-mile round trip). We discovered incredible farmland, pineapple plantations, archeological sites, an Agricultural College, and quite likely our favorite part was reaching the top to find a man selling coconuts, cooled in an ice chest. He lopped off the top, inserted a straw, and voila, we sipped the most refreshing drink (which tastes nothing like the coconut water sold in the states) while taking in a stunning view of Opunoho & Cooks Bay below. Note, the empty coconuts were re-used for Mai-Tai's later that evening (see pics). We got up early to take the dinghy to the head of the bay to buy fresh Crevette (shrimp) direct from a local shrimp farm that is only open 4 hours each week. We visited an amazing vanilla and fruit farm high atop a hill, carrying back way too much!
We were up and out early the mornings we went to visit the stingrays and black-tipped reef sharks. We had heard that an early morning arrival would beat the hotel boats filled with tourists. We loaded ourselves and our gear into the dinghy and ventured off with pretty vague directions...from the anchorage, follow the white markers about 1-mile west; look for a couple of mooring balls, and if you get to Motu Mihi, you've gone to far. We saw another dinghy out in front of us, so we followed them for a bit; however, they went beyond where we guessed we should be stopping. We spotted a couple of mooring balls and coasted near them - me telling Rob I was pretty sure we were at the wrong spot - Kate saying, "Mom, we only need one captain." Ouch. As we were having this discussion, we looked over the side of the dinghy to find 4,5,6 stingrays gathering below us in four feet of water - just a wee bit intimidating. And, even though we didn't want a bunch of people around us, we were the only people there. As is customary, we made Rob splash first.
The hour that followed was simply magical - a wild aquarium - which our images and video speak to best. As we slipped into the water, these beautiful rays were curious to meet us. At first, they swam by appearing to check us out. As time went by, they allowed us to pet them, and swam up the front of our bodies to give us a hug (I swear to you it looked like they were trying to take Kate's top off). Yes, there was some squealing heard. While our attention was focused on the stingrays, a dozen black-tipped reef sharks swam about. Rob tapped on my shoulder to say, "Hey, do you notice that you're not afraid of the sharks?"
Another highlight of our time in Moorea was sharing the experience with our friend Nico (27-year old who singled-handed from Berkeley) and his parents who are visiting for a month from Paris. Kate and Nico paddled kayaks to yoga one night; we cleaned and cooked 60 shrimp for a fantastic meal (followed by many rounds of Bananagrams); we also shared our Stingray experience with them.
Kate and I took the ferry back to Papeete for a girl's day before she headed back to the States. We swam in the hotel pool, napped in poolside lounge chairs, sipped umbrella drinks, and laughed a lot!
This week we are attending "Festival Polynesia - Te Moana Nui a Hiva" - the first festival of its kind in Papeete honoring the deep, rich cultural history and connection French Polynesians have with the Maoris (New Zealanders), Hawaiians, and Easter Islanders. We've seen two dance shows so far - we have been brought to tears by their intensity and beauty.
With our return to the states only six weeks away, many of our conversations have made that difficult shift to focus on departure planning. Wasn't it just yesterday that we left the comforts of our home in Seattle? It is yet another opportunity to practice being in the present moment. Just as on land, there is no shortage of experiences/advice shared amongst cruisers. On the re-entry subject, I'll save you the details, but the bottom line we've heard from those that "re-entered" before - it's difficult. Much like our excitement about arriving in Tahiti (despite what we'd heard), we are also excited about returning to the states. We miss our family. We miss our friends. We're looking forward to the adventures we'll have when we return.
Later this week we'll sail to Huahine (our final overnight sail this trip) and finally Raiatea to haul the boat out and make our way back to the states.
Susan & Rob