Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mopelia – May 10 – May 18 2014

We departed Maupiti for the last inhabited island of French Polynesia, Mopelia.  This was an overnight run and with strong winds and a couple of squalls we arrived before day break.  We spent the next 5 hrs. slowly trolling up and down the west side of this remote Atoll waiting for high tide and enough sunshine to see our way thru what was to be THE BIGGEST BUTT CLENCHER of them all….I know, I know, that’s what I said about Maupiti…but I’m not kidding when I say squeeze them cheeks and don’t sneeze or you’re a gonna have to change your shorts.  There are only two sticks marking this verrrry narrow channel, completely awash with pounding surge and surf…and we are on the lee side of the atoll.  We made it thru this 10ft deep 40’ wide channel, and Kaija made an ‘Admiral’s Declaration’…We Ain’t Doin That No Mo’.   It was about as nerve racking as it gets, but we were thru.  Once inside the Atoll, the waters are clear…so clear in fact that you can see every coral head down to about 100 ft.  However, they seem a lot closer and negotiating our way to the anchorage was akin to sailing thru a mine field.  There is no airport on this Atoll, and very few ships visit.  There is one coastal freighter that visits once every 8 months.  There are a few local inhabitants but limited to no more than 20 at any given time.  We were lucky enough to meet Adrienne, her daughter Faimano and son Hilo who greeted us with uncommon hospitality.  They were kind & gracious and invited us to join them for a meal of Coconut Crab. 
 This was our first taste of this Crustaceous Critter.  We first saw these crabs 25 years ago scampering thru the trees in Bora Bora but never had occasion to taste one.  Adrienne found a monster and cooked it up.  There was more than enough to feed 5 given that we were hoping that Adrienne’s husband Marcello would arrive in time for dinner, but did not.   
 The highlight of the meal came when after being served the best parts of the crab, the claws and legs, Hilo turned to Kaija and me and said “but you are not eating the best part”…referring to the belly of the ‘beast’.  On this size crab it is the size of a small pot…and the innards are cooked into a ‘stew like’ concoction used for dipping the taro root.  At first blush, dare I say glance, this did not look too appealing.  However, Hilo was insistent and said “it is very good, tastes like cheese”.   Kaija, in her most ladylike manner said, “oh I just couldn’t, I’ve already eaten so much, but Gary would love to try it, he LOVES cheese”.  Now anyone who knows me, knows that I do in fact like cheese, your sharp Cheddar, your Gouda, Emmenthal, Brie…love em all, but this didn’t look like cheese, nor did it have any of that cheesy smell.  In fact, my olfactory senses were shutting down.  Not wishing to offend our hosts, I felt obliged to give it a try.  I dipped a piece of Taro into the belly of the beast and with sweating brow and gag reflex subdued, I swallowed.  Hilo, Adrienne and Faimano were watching closely.  I smiled, well perhaps grimaced is more accurate, and made the most sincere gesture of satisfaction…I think I deserve an Oscar Award for my performance.  I know I was convincing, but my stomach was retching…I held out…showed my manly prowess and breathed deep, just barely hanging on.   Satisfied that we had partaken of their offerings, Adrienne was anxious to move onto dessert…which thankfully Kaija had prepared.  Double Gooey Chocolate cake.  As it happens, Chocolate was Adrienne’s weakness.  Ha Ha, watching her devour that cake was akin to watching a 4 yr. old on Christmas morning opening presents.  She reluctantly shared with Hilo and Faimano, but made it clear, that this was her cake.  We were not the first to visit these hospitalities.  A large scrapbook was produced filled with testimonials of those who have come before and of the good times had by all.  We happily agreed to add our comments and left them in their guest book as follows.
 We had so much fun, shared a lot of laughter and had a genuinely wonderful evening with these very relaxed, easy going people.  They have so little, but gave generously that which they had.  We were blessed to find such wonderful folk on this tiny remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Maupiti – May 5 – May 9 2014

30 west of Bora Bora we found one of the last of the Society Islands, Maupiti.   To visit this island by boat demands relatively calm weather.  Otherwise the surge and ocean swell thru the one ‘pass’ is prohibitive.  We carefully waited for a weather window for our visit and even so, found this entrance thru the reef to be the most butt clenching experience we have had in our 10 years of cruising.  With huge ocean rollers all around you, there is little margin for error coming into this narrow opening in the reef. 
 However, once thru…one finds a place less travelled and a vista worthy of a William Wordsworth poem.  With giant Manta’s guiding you thru the stick marked channel you arrive at an anchorage just beside village church with bells tolling peacefully. There is an airport here used mainly by the locals and there are few tourists.   
We were one of only two boat in the anchorage.  The other boat was Sv Itchy Feet with Alex and Maria a lovely couple from Austria, out to see the world.   
 The locals greet you with warm open smiles and are eager to assist in giving directions to wherever you wish to go…the directions are simple…”it’s just two minutes that way” as they point up or down the village road which is the road less travelled and three hours will circumnavigate the entire island.    
 There is not much to see or do on Maupiti but a visit here is like a balm for the soul.  A perfect place of Rest, Maupiti = Tranquility.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Bora Bora April 23 – May 4 2014

What can be said or written about Bora Bora that hasn’t already been?  Movies such as Mutiny on the Bounty and South Pacific have conjured up this idyllic Island Paradise to be the Home of Legends and the Place of Dreams. 
Time, however, is not being kind to Bora Bora.  Tourism is now the anchor of the local economy and is bringing about a subtle but real change to the island feeling.  Gone is the simple lifestyle of quaint village fisherman and their families sustained completely by the land and the sea.  When we first visited in 1990 there was less of everything.  Sometimes less is more.  Back then, there were few cars and we walked dirt roads overrun with large coconut crabs.  Today they are gone replaced by paved roads and more cars per capita than most large cities.  Along with the hustle and bustle of traffic there are the Ocean Cruise ships, non-existent in these waters 20 years ago.  Today they come and go with clockwork regularity bringing with them the hordes of tourist crowds that exhaust the local infrastructure and leave behind them a land filled with waste and garbage.

The purist part of Bora Bora remains the atoll waters.  More so on the east side of the island where the cruise ships cannot go.  There you can still swim with the giant Manta Rays and enjoy the coral reef gardens, provided you go when the cruise ship launches are not there. 
We are grateful we saw Bora Bora 25 years ago when it was still the Bora Bora of the movies and close up it was beautiful.  This visit, while we were still able to enjoy a good Burger at Bloody Mary’s it was 5 times the price without the quaint setting and instead of island music it is rap music and Wi-Fi.  Today it is Bora Bora the tourist trap, much more romantic from a distance than upon closer inspection.  Bora Bora was once considered the jewel of the Pacific because of its natural beauty.  In my humble opinion the new manmade beauty pales by comparison.  This Jewel has lost its luster.