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Monday, July 16, 2012

7/11/2012 Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha'a

7/11/2012 Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha'a

We remained at anchor near the Village of Papetoai, Moorea for several nights after the Puddle Jump gathering then made a quick jump around the corner to Cooks Bay. There nestled below the spire of Mont Mouaputa there were fewer boats and less traffic and we were closer to the conveniences of the villages of both Paopao and Maharepa. We stayed three nights just relaxing and enjoying a few lazy days before we set off for the leeward Society Islands. The next few passages were to be short day trips -Moorea to Huahine to Raiatea to Taha'a to Bora Bora with lots to see and do between. My only real worry was working out how we could even begin to experience the new islands without driving ourselves crazy in a frenzy while also finding time to do a few buckets of laundry, fix our Si-Tex radar (acquired new just over a year ago) and trouble shoot the Engel freezer that died after only two months of use. Oh and service the winches, fix a leaky port light and provision and clean for our upcoming passage to the Cook Islands.

The Island of Huahine was one of our stops eight years ago and is still enchanting today. We anchored in the lagoon near the village of Fara. There in the center of town is the quay -their large community dock- and around it bubbles the life of the town. Early each morning the town wakes up. Local women sit chatting around a few simple tables or one of the handful of permanent booths scattered around the quay selling their wares: taro and tapioca roots, fresh greens, papaya, watermelon, pineapples and bananas, homemade sweets, coconut milk and the ever present baguette sandwich filled with ham and cheese. By 10:30 or 11:00 the close up shop and head home for the day.

It has been typical throughout French Polynesia for the merchants to close their doors for a few hours around noon an then reopen for the evening essentially shutting down a town for several hours in the heat of the day. Progress has arrived in Huahine, they now have a large well stocked grocery that stays open from seven to seven. If you need it they have it. Or maybe more precisely if they don't have it you don't need it!

We were well stocked up so only perused the isles for goodies like baguettes, imported cheese and our new addiction, Tim Tams. They are an Australian cookie (we think since one of our Aussie friends was overjoyed on finding them again in Tahiti after a many year absence) made by Arnott that has a double layer of crispy not to sweet cookie sandwiching yummy filling and then coated in chocolate. They come in a wide variety of flavors but our current favorite flavor is the double dipped chocolate: ah, the simple joys in life!

At anchor in front of the village of Fare we could hear the sound of drums in the air as we fell asleep after our passage from Moorea. The next day we discovered that we had missed the previous evenings performance but that we should be able to watch a practice session sometime in the next day or two. So when evening came we simply followed the sound of the drums to the local community center where a practice was in full swing. There we met a man who had recently turned over the job of director to new younger blood. He generously took the time to explained what we were seeing and gave us some history of the dancing. He said that on Huahine the Heava dance and drum groups only practice for a couple of months a year rather than the year round practice sessions held on the larger islands.

Another interesting thing we learned was that each island has their own dances that are not danced anywhere else in French Polynesia and that those are often danced differently on one end of the island from the other. The movements of the women dancers come from a history of welcoming visitors to their islands, the flowers and trees and winds of the sea. The men's moves come from the movements of paddling or fishing, the islands traditional contests and games and from their ancestor warriors. The movements of the women are very feminine, sexual and provocative and the men's are full of island machismo and a feeling of protection and strength. Brimming with laughter and smiles the "kids" proudly sang, danced and drummed away for several hours while their families and neighbors watched from their places around the edge of the community center.

Watching them left me thinking about our own kids and how we try and reduce or even eliminate overt sexuality -maybe in fear- in our young people and about the controversy that continues to rage over the energy and consequences of the violence our boys especially see in popular music, TV and movies. Here in Polynesia those aspects of life are celebrated in their music and dance. The chasm of difference I felt is as clearly seen today as it was when the shocked Europeans arrived.

After original "discovery" of these islands the European churches sent in missionaries filled and fueled with all the good censorship and prudishness they could muster off to the islands to save some souls. No dancing of course and for Gods sake put on some clothes! The common sailor had different ideas altogether as they bargained with the women who happily traded their island welcome away for an iron nail or two. Eventually the ships began to literally fall to pieces nail by nail but the missionaries had made their mark. Their dress changed, their languages changed and until the late 50's even their dances and songs disappeared. The churches remain a big part of island life today but thankfully the music and dance has returned.

We stayed for a couple of hours watching the singing, dancing and drumming. Half the town it seemed had turned out to cheer them on. The center filled up with little boys running and playing, parents and grandparents setting up chairs to watch and the teenagers egging each other on and as we have seen again and again the littlest of girls stood off in the wings copying the dance moves. Even the smallest already developing that very Polynesian wiggle in their swing. In fact I think it is physically impossible for Caucasian girl hips to come even close to the inborn Polynesian wiggle.

A few days later we arrived in Raiatea in time to catch a full show complete with MC and judges, costumes, a comedy routine and packed stands. The whole area transforms with the community center tent hung with decoration, rides for the kids, food booths and a sort of carnival air. These kids on Raiatea had been practicing all year and it showed. Each of the island areas presentation of songs, drumming and dancing included several different numbers all certainly requiring countless hours of practice and hundreds of hours putting together the elaborate costumes. They utilized bits of shell and feather, flowers, leaves and grasses with yards of tropical print material and handmade grass skirts to create the hundreds of separate costumes. There were spears and torches, grass pom-pom shakers and elaborate head dresses. The crowd clearly loved it all but reserved their most sincere (and loud) approval for the men's machismo pounding and thrusting and of course the amazing wiggle and shake of some of the most beautiful and barely clothed women in the world.

We rounded out our time in Raiatea with visits with several boat crews we hadn't met yet and a jungle trip up river with a fellow we met named James. We followed him in our dinghy up river to the place he and his family have called home for generations. They have a large garden that winds along the river. They grow fruit, vegetables, vanilla and flowers and exotic plants. The flowers and plants are shipped all over the islands for making traditional flower crowns and necklaces and for the decorations used in celebrations over the course of the year. He walked us through the gardens pointing out the different flowers and shrubs and gave some history and uses for each. Some were edible many just beautiful. At the end of our trek he gave us a huge stalk of green bananas that are even now ripening on a line suspended from our radar arch along with some drinking coconuts and pamplemousse.

From Raiatea we crossed the lagoon to Taha'a for a few days of quite before our planned crossing to Bora Bora but then were surprised to find that they were ramping up for a celebration there too. Like Raiatea, Taha'a also had a community tent set up where we managed to catch some of their practice sessions and then stumbled onto a local drum practice being set up in the cement covered play area of the local grade school. There were three generations of drummers and they thumped and banged for hours. The little kids ran around playing with balloons (Island Bound always carries balloons for the kids) local families dropped in and out, moms with babies on their hip stopped to watch and the older kids posed and acted nonchalant off at a cool distance.

In Taha'a we found out a bit of news that no other cruisers seemed to know: the years final Heava competitions will take place right there in tiny Taha'a. We had been told that the main competition was to be held in Bora Bora in the days leading up to Bastilles Day but now found out instead that the best of the best will be competing in Taha'a for six days well after Bastilles Day. Bora Bora is the hub of tourism these days in Tahiti's islands and their celebration is important but it will be Taha'a where the winners of each separate island will compete for the top honors. This celebration is more for the Tahitian and less for the tourists and will also be where the final competitions will be for the outrigger races, foot races, rock carrying and tug of war fights. So weather willing our stay in Bora Bora will be cut short and we will return to Taha'a for the local excitement.

While in Taha'a we also had a chance to return to the site of the best snorkeling we had every experienced in our lives. A small pass runs between two motu on Taha'a' and eight years ago we took a day tour that ended there. The guide walked us across the motu where we donned our gear and then slide into crystal clear water and weightlessly floated above a garden of gloriously colored corrals. The different types of corrals were amazing and the sea life was astounding. We both had held wonderful memories of that day. So we happy and excited when we thought we had managed to find the exact place and excitedly returned along with our friends on Panta Rhei. Sadly in just eight years the reef had taken a severe beating. The best way to imagine it is to think of the most beautiful underwater scene you can imagine then take away three quarters of the color, break off two thirds of the corral and litter the pieces across the lagoon floor and finally spread a thin film of grey sandy ash over everything.

We were stunned. It is in fact still beautiful if you don't know better and the people of Taha'a still consider it a jewel in their lagoon. But for us it was a horrible realization. To the credit of mankind we are told that most of the damage came from a cyclone that hit in 2010 that wiped out reef life, hotels, homes and roads. But a portion of the damage is a direct result of over-loving a fragile ecosystem. In fact when we were there before we were astounded how little regard the locals seemed to have for their reefs. In the US we were already into conservation in a big way. But in Tahiti the reefs had always been there and everyone it seemed thought that it always would be there. They had no restrictions or even suggestions for treatment of their beautiful corral gardens and several times we were even instructed by dive masters and tour operators to crawl our way across the corral -something that would have been unthinkable in Hawaii.

Of course we all know now that a corral reef is a very fragile thing and that they are disappearing at an astonishing rate all over the world. We keep learning that for most life on the planet trying to recover something lost always takes monumentally more time to rebuild or replace than the blink of an eye it takes to destroy. My soapbox for today is for all of us to remember that we must redouble our efforts to be good stewards of our world. Our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams flow with the life of the planet and if we disregard them we will surely loose things that are both amazingly beautiful but also vital to the existence of all life on earth. Pick up your trash, conserve, re-use, live small and pass it on. We essentially ran through Raiatea and Taha'a to make Bastille Day on Bora Bora but left with a plan to return and spend the last 10 days or so of our French Polynesia Visa discovering the smaller less used anchorages of these two beautiful and still mostly unspoiled islands.

Bora Bora is the hub of tourism for Tahiti and it's lagoon is one of the most beautiful in the world. But even Bora Bora has felt the impact of world wide decline in tourism. Many of the famous landmarks here are no longer in business but one that is still around is the Bora Bora Yacht Club and we lucked out and caught the last available mooring ball there when we arrived. The Yacht Club was built in the 50's and we were happy to see they had recovered from their own disastrous encounter with the 2010 cyclone. The club has been rebuilt and the staff was marvelous. They happily directed us to our mooring ball and then filled us in on their services and the highlights of the area. It was lovely to be treated so well and a treat to take my laundry in for a real wash and dry. They had bikes for rent, free showers, a book exchange, a free pool table and great spaces to sit and visit with the other cruisers. They can arrange just about any activity on the island and they offer a shuttle into town which came in handy for the Heava shows that ran late into the night. There is a second Yacht Club the Mai Kai and it too was full and offered a very popular Happy Hour and more upscale food. All of which came in handy for the load of boats here because as we all arrived for Heava a nasty bit of weather arrived and has kept us pinned down for days.

Bora Bora is the last island in the chain of leeward island and is the last stop in French Polynesia for many cruisers. Which left plenty of cruising boats here locked down inside the reef staying safe from the high ocean winds and 4 meter seas raging just outside the lagoon. Luckily the local Gendarmes don't seem to be worried about kicking anyone out regardless of visa dates (Maritime Law mandates that cannot deny safe harbor to a vessel in the case of bad weather or in the event a vessel is unfit to sail) so most of us are just happily hunkered down to wait out the weather. No one seems all that upset over being "stuck" in Bora Bora.

The only disappointment is that the true beauty of Bora Bora is lost in the bad weather. The lagoon famous for its many shades of blue is dark and rough and awash with wind lines. The tour boats are tied to the dock, the dive boats can't go out and the water in the lagoon is so rough that our usual mode of dinghy transportation is rather useless. The walk into town is only about thirty minutes though and the locals seem to take some pity on us happily offering rides when we stick out a thumb. When the weather finally shifts there will be a mass exodus both back to other French Polynesian islands or on west towards the Cooks and Samoa.

Fair Winds, Kat

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