The World's Largest Infinity Pool
23 May 2008 | Kauehi, Tuamotu Archipelago
We made our first landfall in the Tuomotus Archipelago a few days ago, at an atoll called Kauehi. The Tuomotus represent one of the 5 archipelagos that make up French Polynesia (Marquesas, Gambier, Societies-Tahiti, and the Australs being the other 4).
All 5 archipelagos have a common geological root in their formation.following the same tectonic-plate activity that formed the Hawaiian Islands, the immense Pacific plate has been "drifting" ever so slowly (one- half inch per year, or 125,000 years per mile. I've finally found something that moves more slowly than we do) over a stationary hot-spot in the Earth's mantle. As the plate drags over the hot spot, liquid hot magma (think Austin Powers here) forces its way up through the plate, to form a volcanic island. Each chain, or archipelago, is thus formed, then politely moves on so the next chain can be created.
Over time, you get multiple chains, each being significantly younger or older than their neighbors. The youngest archipelago, the Marquesas, is the adolescent brat of the family.young and fit, but sharp-edged, un-cultured, and pimply with sharp mountains. The oldest chain, these Tuomotus, are the aging great- grandparents of the clan.well-weathered, toothless wonders that have lost much of their structural support, but are still bolstered by the tough presence of the coral reef they have developed over their lifetime. Middle- age, then, appears to be the place to be (remember, 600 million is the new 400 million), and that's apparently the stage of life that the Societies-Tahiti are in. Still lush and strong, but with a well-developed circle of support in the form of reefs.We'll let you know when we get there, but I'm already feeling a generational affiliation for the Societies.
OK, Geology-meets-geneology class is over. Lets move on the this particular Tuomotu Atoll, Kauehi. Considered average in size, this roughly circular sunken-island occupies about 100 square miles of reef- protected lagoon. Because the coral reefs are so low-lying, they are very difficult to see, but they still provide super protection from the waves and swells off-shore. Hence, the water inside the lagoon is remarkably flat, and absolutely stunning in its color and clarity. An infinity pool on steroids.
The only village here is pretty sparse, but there is a small market, a beautiful church, and exceptionally friendly locals. The winners of the Entrepreneurs of the Year award are a husband-wife team that own and operate the local market, the only transport service, and a very large, and well-run, pearl farm.
We arranged to tour the pearl farm, along with our rag-tag fleet of buddy boats (Elusive, a J-44; Scarlett O'Hara, a Serendipity 43; and Blue Plains Drifter, another Tayana 48, but the deck salon version). The proprietor, a former Gendarme (cop), showed us how they insert the naisin, or irritant, into a live oyster. 12 months later, they harvest the animal, looking for the pearl that has hopefully developed. So, ok, let's see some pearls. The women of the group were rolling up their sleeves for the anticipated slug-fest over one or 2 choice offerings (think the 50% off table at Macy's), but instead our entrepreneur proffered a locked briefcase, from which he pulled multiple gallon-size ziplock bags, each stuffed with hundreds and hundreds of pears. I'm guessing he had in excess of 5,000 pearls in this case. He spread the contents of 3 bags over a large sorting table, and let us have a go at picking out what we wanted. Talk about taking the fight out of someone.the girls, still posturing for battle, could do little more than hunker over 500 or 1000 pearls and casually sort through them. No thrown-elbows, no sideways glances, no vicious hip-checks, nothing. Very civilized. Needless to say, us guys were distraught. We knew we would be expected to pay for the selected bounty of pearls, but we had at least hoped for a few good knock-down, drag-outs. Kind of like paying for a ring-side seat at a prize fight. But it was not to be. The gals got their pearls, the guys got soaked, and not an ounce of blood was shed. Oh well, maybe next time.
By the end of the day, each boat had chosen and paid for their selections. It was at this point that a most curious thing happened. After driving a hard bargain and holding firm on his pricing strategy, Mr. Entrepreneur grabbed a scooper like the kind you see in a bulk-food bin. He then scooped, and distributed, free pearls to anyone who had just paid full retail. The big spenders of the group (not us) received over 20 "bonus" pearls to augment the 12 or so they purchased. Percentage-wise, though, I think we did pretty well. We purchased 4 pearls, but arrived back on board with 22. The owner, I think, took a shine to the girls (or felt sorry for them for having such a schmuck for a dad), and gave them each a half-dozen or more. Not the highest of quality, mind you, but free black pearls none-the-less. And in a mind-bending display of just how much Sophie and Maddie take this trip for granted, the first thing they did when we returned to the boat was spread out their pearls, and proceed to.play marbles.