Friday, 21 July 2017

Leaving French Polynesia

We are anchored in shallow turquoise water in Maupiti, which is about 30NM to the west of Bora Bora. It is delightful. An atoll with a big lagoon and with a 350m mountain in the middle. Yesterday we cycled round the island and today we have been snorkelling with manta rays in the lagoon. Not the best view so we shall try again tomorrow morning. They go out to the pass to sea to clean themselves in the morning with the aid of fish who eat barnacles etc off them, and then they disperse through the lagoon during the day.

Nicky and Maupiti church
This afternoon we are conducting an eye clinic on land. We have 500 pairs of long-distance and 40 pairs of clever adjustable short-sighted glasses with us and various eye charts, supplied by Oregon-based Sea Mercy and we will see who needs them; the mayor, whom we met this morning, has invited people to attend. Maupiti has about 1000 inhabitants and nowhere near the amount of tourism of the other islands. Bora Bora is overbuilt and overpriced, so don't go there for your honeymoon; we can suggest many better locations! Maupiti is not poor but it is less affluent than the other Society islands. 

Each island has a different feel, even Raiatea and Taha'a, which share a lagoon. On Raiatea, while Sue was completing her PADI certification, we hiked with Tiggy and James from Miss Tiggy, from sea level to the high plateau at 720 metres, saw a Tiare Apetahi flower up close - it's the national, very endangered flower - and back down again, a tiring 7 hour walk. We've loved drifting with the current through coral gardens, sometimes having to suck in the tummy so as not to graze the coral,
surrounded by multi-coloured fish.

Fish traps Huahine
Not so keen on sea slugs, though, which look like turds... We've visited pearl farms and seen the extraordinarily fiddly process of implanting a piece of shell and a small centre into pearls, and the glorious range of colours the resulting pearls display. And on Taha'a, we loved being shown round a distillery and vanilla plantation, and continue to enjoy the passionfruit rum. Thanks to Lenny and Sharon on Shalen for pointing us in that direction! Renting a car on some islands,such as Huahine, has allowed us to explore the interior and parts of the coast we couldn't otherwise get to. A friendly Ia Orana (hello) and Nana (bye) is as far as our Polynesian has progressed, but it's been fun being able to communicate in French, which we couldn't do in Spanish in Colombia, Panama and Galapagos.

We will probably leave Maupiti tomorrow for Maupihaa. It is an island with 18 inhabitants and we will be taking 3 of them with us! The supply ship only calls twice a year, when there is enough copra harvested and ready to export. The islanders take the supply ship or manage sometimes to get a
lift back 100NM upwind to Maupiti, but then they need to hitch a ride back home. The pilot book has all kinds of ferocious warnings about the pass being among the most difficult in French Polynesia; it is only 20m across but there is plenty of depth and the weather forecast looks good, and we will have 3 locals on board! The pass into Maupiti was exciting and in different winds from the south could be truly awful, but it was well marked, plenty of agitated waves but nothing too bad - power on and we made it through. The current was against us: there's always a current running OUT of the atoll, which seems strange until you think that there are always waves breaking against the reef and flooding in.

Grey shark Raiatea
So we have now been in French Polynesia since the beginning of May: Marquesas, then Tuamotus, then Tahiti and the Society islands. The last month has been in the more populated parts, but we needed 10 days in Tahiti to change the gearbox (which meant flying 130kg of gearbox and drive
mechanics from the UK, and the engineer from New Zealand), to finalise fixing the gooseneck, and to reprovision the freezer and other supplies. All done at 3x the price of Panama.
We had a lovely two weeks with Michael and his friends George and Tom. Now we are with Peter and Sue who will accompany us across the deserted Southern Pacific to Tonga via Maupihaa, Aitutaki, Palmerston and Niue. The latter three do not have a lagoon, so we will have to anchor on the lee side and hope the weather is good or leave and move on. We will be in Tonga (360 islands) mid August, Fiji (333 islands) early September and leave Fiji for New Zealand mid-October.

We have loved the people of French Polynesia, which seems remarkably prosperous, friendly, with a high sense of community and also selectively understanding that too much tourism is not a good thing; eg Huahine voted
Huahine Heiva
against any large hotels. How the economy works I really don't know. Breadfruit, grapefruit and many other fruits grow easily in your back garden, fish is still in the lagoon or the sea. Life is simple, egalitarian, and with many community activities.

It has been the season of Heiva or festivals, and we will post a video of the fabulous dancing and singing from Huahine. All the island was there and the cast was over a hundred of all ages, and all massively enthusiastic. Quite how all this enables the books to balance I don't know, but it is very happy. I suspect voting for independence would be a mistake, though we have seen a fair number of blue and white flags showing support for that idea.

We are now out of 3G coverage, so please.

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