Friday, June 18, 2010

Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora.

Leaving Tahiti in direction of Bora Bora we had a small stop to do at the island of Raiatea in order to do some repairs on the boat. Nothing major but the main task consisted in changing the blades of our starboard propeller and for this we needed to haul out the boat. Less than two hours after being out of the water the propeller had three new shiny blades but less than 48 hours after returning in the salt water the blades were already faded and the corrosion process well engaged! While waiting for our haul out at the dock of the “Chantier Maritime des Iles sous le vent” we chatted with Patrick and Naya who were moored just next to us. Naya mentioned among other things that she had some issues receiving her emails and Danielle told her she would come later to see what she can do. The next day, after we were done with the repairs and had launched the boat, we went to see them. We stayed four hours on their boat; 15 minutes for Danielle to fix the email problem and 3 hours and 45 minutes to chat with them!

Before leaving Raiatea we went to the neighbor island of Tahaa. In fact the two islands are so close that they share the same coral belt. We wanted to visit a pearl farm since the black pearl is literally the jewel of French Polynesia and the pun is entirely intended J Carl, from the “Motu Pearl Village” explained to us how they implant a small seed in the oysters to provoke the creation of a pearl. Eighteen months after the implant the oyster has covered the seed with a layer of black mother-of-pearl sufficiently thick to meet the regulations required to put it on the market. To give you an idea of the local pearl industry the farm we visited had, at one point, up to 200,000 oysters but the recent downturn in the pearl industry forced them to bring that figure down to 20,000. There are apparently around 650 pearl farms in French Polynesia. As for us since it was Danielle’s birthday and our wedding anniversary both in the same week we bought her a nice black pearl, the size of our means, she will be able to wear at the neck.

We couldn’t leave French Polynesia without seeing the island of Bora Bora. The water in the area is obviously magnificent but the island itself doesn’t have much for the passing tourists. The reason is very simple; Bora Bora is the paradise of De Luxe All Inclusive Resorts, which offer rooms starting around $150/night up to the bungalows built on piles going for as much as $850/night! People come here for the water and fishes are beautiful. We went snorkeling close to our anchorage at a place we saw many tour boats bringing tourists for a dive. While attaching our dinghy to a mooring ball at the location in question we saw hundreds of fishes gathering around us. It didn’t take us long to understand that those fishes are regularly fed by the tourist boats. We quickly came back to the boat and brought back a baguette of bread with us. As soon as we were in the water it was close to a thousand fishes that surrounded us from everywhere and we only had to hold the pieces of bread in our hand for them to come and nibble at it. We could even feel the tickling from some of them confusing our fingers with the bread. In few minutes the whole baguette was gone and not a single crumb touched the bottom!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dazzled by Moorea.

We found Tahiti very nice but we were completely dazzled by Moorea its neighbor island. The main reason that attracted us to Moorea was to swim with dolphins at the Hotel Intercontinentale of Moorea. We didn’t have much trouble finding the de luxe hotel since its bungalows built on piles over the water of the lagoon were visible five miles around. When we arrived on the site we understood why the swimming session with the dolphins cost $550.00 for the two of us! The place was a five star resort with flowers and palm trees everywhere. We were ahead of time so we took a walk around the complex. It was not very hard since we had the title tourists tattooed in our forehead. This is something we encounter everywhere we go. With my “Tilley” hat, I need to wear all the time or otherwise being burnt to a cinder by the sun, and the rest of our cloths people immediately know we are tourists. Even here, where we could theoretically pass as French people living on the island, we get almost systematically greeted in English even after we answered in French. They must think that our Canadian accent is the one of an English tourist desperately trying to speak French to be polite! Anyhow, we were there to live this amazing experience we won’t likely have the chance to do again in our life. The two dolphins, born in captivity and very well trained, played with us by making flips, letting us pet them and taking different poses for the pictures. It is quite hard to describe in details how we felt but we keep a magic memory of this activity. As for the dolphins seeing us jumping in the water with our life jackets and diving masks they must have been thinking; “Why in the world am I still doing this job? Oh well, as long as I still get the fishes I can very well do their flips if this pleases them!”
This island of Moorea is the little neighbor of Tahiti and doesn’t seem exceptional at first. Like all French Polynesian islands it is a volcanic island surrounded by a coral belt. Eventually, the island will sink leaving only the coral belt in which case it will become an atoll. But this will take a few million years so land owners are not about to lose their investment any time soon! But the thing to know is that between the island, coming out of the water, and the coral belt reaching just below the surface there is channel of deeper waters in which small boats can navigate; this is what people call here the lagoon and this is exactly where we anchored Chocobo.
The water surrounding Moorea is the clearest water we saw so far in this trip. In the morning, when the wind is almost dead, we can see the bottom of the water but not the surface. Once we dove from the boat but had no reference to when we would hit the surface. This was kind of weird. But with such clear water you can imagine what the snorkeling might be. The coral reef is very healthy and populated by a multitude of fishes wearing colors to spin the head of tropical aquariums lovers. The aquarium here is right under the boat. We put our fins, masks and snorkelers and jump in the water. We swim a bit and we’re already at the coral belt. We even saw Nemo in his anemone! We went to three places in Moorea, Vaiare, la Baie de Cook and la Baie d’Opunohu. The last two were very nice but Vaiare beats them hollow. On the west side of the trench, located south of the pass, we found an underwater cliff that took our breath away. Fortunately, we had our snorkelers so we didn’t drown :-)
Waters of Moorea may make us feel in paradise but the island itself has its charm as well. With a light population; vegetation is everywhere. People are nice, like pretty much everywhere we go, and seem to live a peaceful life with not much stress. But like this man, who kindly volunteered to bring us back to Vaiare harbor in his car, told us they have concerns of their own. Speaking French with an accent to embarrass even people from Lake St-Jean he explained us that people were increasingly concerned by the growing usage of herbicides in the pineapple culture, which now pollutes the rivers and will eventually damage the corals. It seems that even in paradise productivity has its importance! I am sure God must be concern of the impact of the harp mass production on the clouds of the heavens!
One of things we wanted to see here in Moorea is what the locals call “la cascade”. It is a waterfall running on the side of the mountain and according to the tourist flyer is worth the trip. Starting at a small road behind the village school in Afareaitu we were told by the town people that we had to go to the end of the road and take the path on the right to get there. No direction signs the waterfall is there and you must find it! Luckily for us when we arrived at the path in question a group of people from the area got out of their car and took the path. It wasn’t obvious that this was our path and looking at each other we thought that if some people were going this way this must be our way too. Don’t try to find the logic here but it worked. After one or two hundred meters we caught up with them and they confirmed that this was the right way to la cascade. But later the path split in two and we had to use their help again to know that we had to take the path on the right. After an hour walk in the woods we finally reached the cascade and it was indeed worth the trip. Danielle had carefully prepared sandwiches and we had a nice picnic at the foot of the waterfall before leaving. The thing was though that the cascade was an hour walk from Afareaitu but our boat was in Vaiare, which was another hour walk from Afareaitu. When we arrived back to Afareaitu we were already walking for three hours. This is when the man I talked about in the previous paragraph honk at us and offered us a ride back to Vaiare. Of course we were not hard to convince to accept his offer!