Contrast part 2
16 January 2019
Yes, French Polynesia is a large archipelago, covering an area the size of Europe. These volcanic islands were formed during different geological events and vary greatly in their land and sea formations. By contrast, the Hawaiian Islands are relatively new. They aren't old enough to have extensive reefs. Gambiers is an archipelago of 5 major islands, a dozen smaller ones and motus or solid land formations on the surrounding reefs. One of these motus is long enough to have been made into the airport. The lagoon inside the reef is full of coral formations and almost as dangerous, thousands of pearl farm floats.
Gambiers is renown for the finest black pearls in French Polynesia. Racks with oysters are suspended by floats to help these filter feeders thrive. Sailing among them is far more difficult than the crab traps in the Chesapeake. Pearl floats are everywhere. Coral heads are everywhere. Any time you move your boat, someone must be watching on the bow for hazards. No problem, distances between islands are seldom more than an hour sail (we motor only to be safe).
We knew all of this as we entered the SW pass with Off2Sea. The steel, gray seas turned to the most brilliant, indigo blue we have ever seen. We could see the bottom at 80 feet. What a sense of relief to drop anchor in the tranquil bay of Taravai. Anchor beer never tasted so good! Uproar sat as still at anchor as if we were on land. We slept about 9 hours straight. The next morning the sun rose, coffee brewed, and we awoke to a bay, more beautiful than we could imagine. We were encouraged to go ashore and meet Edouard and Denise, the only residents in this bay. They greeted us like family. Adrianne, 17, their grandson was visiting from Papeete. It was Christmas break.
Adrianne offered to guide us through the pass over the mountain to the village. We readily agreed and set off. Adrianne is a real student of Polynesian history and explained a lot about the islands and Gambiers during the hike. He also had a lot of knowledge about the plants, animals, and sea. This city boy sure loved the remote Gambiers.
We arrived in the village where only 6 people live. The island of Taravai once had a population of 500. The Catholic missionaries brought mayhem as well as religion to Gambiers, their first attempt at bringing Christianity to the Polynesians. The people were decimated by disease and the enslavement to build churches. The church in the village is impressive, built in the 1840's. It is so sad that these gentle people suffered under these missionaries. But the local people are devoutly Catholic and keep the grounds of the churches as pristine as their yards.
Adrianne took us to his aunt and uncle's house, Herve and Valorie. We were again welcomed, given cold water and bananas as we sat and talked under their Hisbiscus tree. Valorie invited us to visit on Sunday when they have a traditional picnic for anyone who comes. We got a tour of their garden and sack full of produce. Herve was bringing part of a goat and pig he hunted to the other side of the island where Uproar was anchored. Instead of another hike over the mountain, we got a boat ride back.
We gave Adrianne $20 for the day he spent guiding us. He protested but I insisted explaining that we have kids and students always need some pocket money. I told him to take his girlfriend out for coffee. The next day he brought out a bag of fruit and dropped it in our dinghy. The $20 was in the bag with the fruit.
The difficult passage became a distant memory in this land of paradise. It wasn't the first tough passage we have had and will certainly not be the last. I guess it is a bit like prison rape. Hurts like hell, no one likes it, but it is just part of the program. Our passage through paradise has some bumps along the way but it doesn't take much paradise for them to be forgotten.