May 7, 2020 ; 9:58 AM
17°54’S, 149°57’W – Papeete Marina
Now that we know Tahiti, we LOVE Tahiti!
The first couple days of freedom meant more walking around town, exploring and lots of snorkeling. Just as soon as we were allowed, we launched our dinghy, grabbed some friends from Influencer, Maximillian, and Aurora, and headed out to the reef. We couldn’t WAIT to dive into that pretty, blue water (now that we didn’t have to strategically fall off our boats to do so).
Our first snorkel was shallow and full of bright colored fish amongst their coral homes. We even saw live giant clams wedged into much of the coral and pulsing with green, blue, purple and brown flesh inside. And, unfortunately, some locals pulling the coral apart to take one ☹.
The only really large fish we saw was a moray eel. I try to stay away from eels because they’re spooky and I prefer pretty much every other ocean creature… but Admiral Anne was keen to dive down by the opening to his home to make him come out and chomp at her.
Our subsequent snorkels were in a little deeper water, which meant we could see the entirety of the coral structures better. The coral in those areas also happened to be healthier which meant more vibrance and variance and an altogether better snorkel. There’s so much to see in the reef just outside the marina!
Back at the boat, Captain Dave “showed off his craftsmanship” repairing the broken wire clip on the stern light. By the way he talks about it, it must have been a truly impressive feet *insert eyeroll here*. Meanwhile, I almost became part of the boat one afternoon as my book and I melted into it in over 100-degree heat. Who was more productive that day- me preventing the captain’s crew from turning into the crew of Davie Jones, or the Captain in repairing the stern light? I’ll let you decide.
After we thoroughly explored Papeete and the surrounding areas to the best of our ability, we were able to take a real tour to see what the rest of Tahiti had to offer. And it has SO MUCH. We couldn’t be happier to stretch our legs and check it out now that confinement is over. We were perfectly giddy.
If you’re ever in Tahiti, you must meet Tracey. This lady put together the perfect tour for our interests and needs and provided all sorts of recommendations for restaurants, shops, beaches, tours, etc. etc.
You can find her here: www.uniquetahiti.com/ | Instagram: @uniquetahiti
Tracey drove us (along with Celtic Star and Amari) around the island all day. She took us to a modern local protestant church and talked us through how religion is a huge part of the daily lives of Polynesians, and to the temple of the old gods of Tahiti to understand how that religion has evolved over the years. It’s a told again story about tension between the natives and missionaries. When the white men came in, they told them not to worship like that or dance like that or speak like that or dress like that. There were revolts and there was violence on both sides (historic Polynesian religion included voluntary human sacrifice). But in the end, the white men had medicine, and the Polynesians died when they couldn’t use that medicine, so the white man’s God must have been more powerful, and Protestantism took off. Or at least that’s the side of the story as told by Polynesians. Missionary accounts in the history books take a different angle.
For a long time, the French worked to assimilate the Polynesians and make them French. Their native language was outlawed, their dancing and music discouraged. Then, not so long ago (1984), French Polynesia became autonomous and the ways of the old culture were revitalized. Now they’re back to creating beautiful, intricate costumes out of fresh flowers and leaves surrounding their homes to dance and sing the old legends. Storytelling has always been a huge part of culture, because until the French came to teach them a new language, their Polynesian language (which only has 13 sounds/letters) had never been written down.
Today they celebrate that past through speaking Polynesian, dancing, singing, and dressing in traditional costume. It’s not just for the enjoyment of the tourists, it’s really an important part of their identity, because ancestry and land are incredibly important to them. In fact, generations of a family live on the same land. So iti (little) Polynesians grow up among their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins until they go to France for university- then typically move back and return to live on their ancestral land again. In fact, you used to dispute a Polynesian’s right to land if they couldn’t recite their lineage all the way back to whoever originally claimed the land for their family. Families lost their homes if they were challenged and couldn’t recall that lineage.
Tracey took us past houses to show us how people live here in Tahiti- and there’s a wide range- but everyone lives in what looks like paradise because of the vegetation and/or ocean around them, regardless of the state of their homes. They don’t need much (which is evident by how often businesses are closed and their short hours even now that confinement has lifted). According to Tracey, “you eat fruit off the land and you throw a hook in the water when you’re hungry, and that’s enough”.
We learned that the long “mailboxes” outside the houses aren’t for mail at all, but instead are baguette boxes for when local bakeries used to come around and deliver baguettes to the families (we NEED one for the boat).
We went to Tracey’s friend Dominic’s home and he took us on a kayaking expedition to a small island where we got to swim and check out the natural crab habitat. He told us some legends of Maui and his fish hook, and what the demi-god is said to have done for the islands (like when he planted an eel and it sprouted a coconut tree for a little girl- can you say, Moana, anyone?) Then he took us for a rinse and a slide in a freshwater spring (more eels… yikes!) and made us a home cooked meal of poissons cru- which is our new favorite dish. Less than 48 hours later we were already making it ourselves back at the boat!
It’s basically tomato, cucumber, onions, tuna, lime, and fresh coconut milk. Unfortunately, the coconuts we found were bad, so we had to use canned.
Polynesians are like Dominic. They seem to truly want to share their culture with us and teach us the way they do things. We’re excited to get to know more of them during our elongated stay here in Tahiti.
But that wasn’t all. Tracey took us to a grotto to swim in the ice-cold, fresh water under a cave. We swam in the dark all the way to touch the very back of the cave, because touching the back of the cave is said to heal all illnesses and ailments. If you look really closely, you can see my skin kind of glows now… I’m just waiting for my spidey senses to kick in 😉.
Back in the heat we went to the most GORGEOUS black sand beach. I’ve never been on a black sand beach before so I was in HEAVEN and couldn’t wait to come back and spend more time there. After lunch on the waterfront we finished the day with a short hike to a waterfall and a quick stop at the “blowhole” before heading back to the marina. It was an INCREDIBLE, very full day that we topped off with French karaoke (10/10 belting out karaoke in a language I don’t know is a new favorite hobby) and a visit to the food trucks that have started to appear outside the marina. The food trucks were started here by the Chinese, so we had Chinese food for the first time since the start of our journey. Admiral Anne and I chowed down on some chow mein as she exclaimed that it was “the best ever!”
In the following days we had time to snorkel some more- this time in a spot with similar wildlife but slightly deeper water and healthier, more vibrant coral. I’m always happy when I’m exploring a new underwater wonderland.
We went to the local church hoping to see some local singing and dancing on Tracey’s recommendation, but unfortunately it was still closed, so we settled for a French sermon in the local (gorgeous) catholic cathedral.
We even rented a car to go back to our favorite black sand beach for a day of sunning, swimming, and frisbee-ing. The waves were so big and powerful you could hear the click clack of the rocks they were displacing as they went back out to sea. We sat and watched the surfers for hours, but never noticed that no one without a board was in the water. Once the sun had gotten the best of us, we decided to brave the waves and cool off.
Careful timing of entrance allowed all of us except Captain Dave to get in unscathed (he took a tumble). It was getting out that was the problem. It’s a lot harder to time your exit when you’re not looking into the front of the waves. I did my best but was knocked to a tumble several times before finally getting to my feet and being able to run over the rocks out of the water. As I emerged, I was laughing hysterically at my antics, but I wasn’t the only one. Looking up the hill, the locals who lined the beach were in STITCHES watching us silly Americans try to swim in those waves. The captain and admiral didn’t fair much better, but it was an experience to remember.
Then, to complete our Tahitian wave experience, we went to Teahopoo, which is said to be the most powerful (but not the tallest) wave in the world. It also happens to be where the 2024 Olympic surfing competition will be. This means even better surfers on even bigger waves, but they were very far out from shore where the waves crash on the coral, so we’re hoping to return when we can sail around the island and dinghy over to watch them closer.
After we were done with the beach there was an afternoon of chasing waterfalls, first at the water gardens but then up into the rainforest from the road as we saw them streaming down into a valley. Our little rental car got us close, but we couldn’t get all the way there. We hope to plan another expedition with a four-wheel drive for next week.
We had dinners of sushi out (for the captain and admiral) and aboard Celtic Star (for the first mate). There was an INCREDIBLE French meal all three of us enjoyedat a restaurant you cannot miss if you ever come here (L’O A La Bouche). We had crab ravioli, duck, lamb, tuna, and crème brulee. Every single dish was extraordinary.
Finally, yesterday we went scuba diving at two different dive sites. We started at both a plane and a shipwreck (purposely wrecked to create the dive site). We all explored and Captain Dave and I even swam through the plane. It was very cool and different. We even saw a stonefish, which we got WAY to close to (in my opinion) because a sting will kill you in under a minute (yikes!)
Personally, I liked the second site better. The coral cliff was vibrant and beautiful (pictures don’t do the color justice) and there were turtles EVERYWHERE. They didn’t seem bothered by my want to swim along with them, and the fish were big and bright. We saw a large gray nurse shark and a smaller reef shark, and just had the most marvelous time being a part of their world for an hour.
Last night was trivia and Amazing Grace won for the first time (largely due to my incredible rendition of “Oops, I Did It Again”- did you know blasting Brittany Spears successfully wards off Somalian Pirates? Winning meant TIM TAMS FOR US!!! Have we spoken about Tim Tams yet? The GREATEST COOKIE IN THE WORLD? Trust me, you must try some immediately if you ever have the opportunity (get the double coated ones). Tim Tams are a new obsession aboard Amazing Grace and we adore our Aussie/Kiwi friends (Influencer) for introducing us, although our waste-lines don’t.
No new news on furthering our journey, but this Tahitian paradise is one amazing place to explore while we wait, so limbo isn’t such a bad place to be 😊.
First mate, Amazing Grace
TLDR: Spent a week exploring Tahiti- no one got sacrificed or killed by a stonefish, and mutiny likeliness has returned to pre-COVID, pre-Pacific levels (~4%).