Sunday, July 29, 2018

Snorkelling Bora Bora

[Kyle]We left Taha’a early and got so sail all almost of the way to Bora Bora under our repaired spinnaker. We only had to switch to our normal working sails for the last upwind leg to the pass. Our new sailing friends Mark and Helen on Charabia, another Athena like Begonia, called us on the radio to say they had seen us depart Taha’a and had been chasing us ever since. Mark guessed from our speed readout on our AIS tag that we must be motorsailing. Well, I never! I eventually forgave them and we hosted them for dinner once we got settled into our first anchorage. We also talked to Chris from Nemo, who ribbed us about beating us to Rikitea when our spinnaker was in tatters in the bag. Well, the equation is different now, buddy. Bring it on!

Sail to Bora Bora
Early start from Taha'a

We swam with stingrays at the first anchorage and then moved around to the east side of the lagoon for a couple of days swimming with Manta rays. The spot we chose had a great angle on the view of Mt. Otemanu, but it was right where all of the other boats trying to anchor near the mantas anchor and also right by the cut in the coral reef where the tour boats zip through. That gave the place a little bit too much of the vibe of the Tiki anchorage on Moorea, so we decided to try to find somewhere a little more quiet and headed to the anchorage at the furthest reach of the lagoon on the far end of Motu Fareone on the extreme southeastern corner.

First anchorage - mostly for the stingrays

We had thought we were just going to swim around the local area, but there didn’t seem much on offer except a lot of sand. Tour boats did come over regularly to disgorge a dozen snorkelers for fifteen minutes of looking at one little bommie, so we knew there was ostensibly something worth seeing, but we were looking to kill more than fifteen minutes, so we loaded up the dinghy for a real expedition and set off. We had the sail kit, an anchor, snorkel gear for each of us, cameras and a change of clothes, which meant we had no room for anything else.

Next anchorage - for the Manta Rays
Although we also get the same views as the luxury hotels

We sailed as far as we dared and dropped the anchor on a patch of sand. We dropped the sail, climbed out from underneath it, put on our masks and fins and jumped in. I hit bottom about a foot later. That’ll make getting back in a lot easier!

We headed in the direction of an intriguing-looking outcrop and were rewarded with acres and acres of multi-colored underwater wonders. The visibility was the best we’ve seen in a while and it looked like the dense coral stretched all of the way to the horizon. We must have swam a mile by the time we returned to the anchored dinghy, navigating by standing up every now and then to scout a path through the labyrinth.

More luxury views as we move to Farone Motu

Once we were back aboard and changed out of our wettest clothes, we spent the next couple of hours sailing up and down the shore. I had a memory from last year of there being a resort nearby. We were hoping we might be able to convince them to serve us some umbrella drinks from some suitably scenic spot. No such place turned out to exist, other than an empty-looking place way back near Begonia. We sailed there and were met with “Tabu” signs facing the water every 20m or so. Private. Go Away. Okay, back to the boat, then.

Messing about with the sailing dinghy

Some lovely coral and coral shelves to snorkel in Farone
And a few critter closeups
Those sea urchins with bits of coral on them are playing camouflage

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Raiatea & Taha'a

[Kyle]From Fare in Huahine, we had a slow trip over to the next island, specifically we headed to the southeastern side of Raiatea. As we left Fare, we found ourselves right in the middle of their va’a races. We stopped to let them by, and then they turned and passed us again. They are faster than we are. We stopped again, but some jerk motoring the other way with his mainsail flapping like a flag plowed right through them (despite Maryanne’s frantic efforts to signal them to slow down). Several of the racing canoes had to swerve and stop to keep from getting t-boned by him. Nice guy!

Departing Huahine among the racing

Heavenly anchorage in Raiatea

We anchored just behind the reef on the southeastern side of Raiatea in just under two meters of sand and enjoyed a leisurely couple of days of solitude punctuated by cooling swims. When we’d had enough of that, we upped anchor and headed for the main village of Uturoa.

Uturoa is supposed to be the second biggest settlement in French Polynesia, behind Papeete. I’m not sure how they came up with that figure. Perhaps much of the island is within its incorporated limits. We walked from one end of the built up area to the other and were back at the boat in fifteen minutes. Geographically, it seems way smaller than Hao village, Taiohae in Nuku Hiva or Viatape in Bora Bora, to name a few. The place has kind of a bad reputation for security, but we found it quiet and pleasant.

Uturoa Town

We were sharing the wharf with a big, four-masted cruise ship that has been popping up most of the places we go. As we got there, the last of the passengers was going back aboard and the town was closing up. We did some shopping at the two groceries there and while Maryanne packed everything away, I went to take out our trash and recycling. By the time I was on my way back, the village seemed to fill with drunks all getting caught up on their public urination. Okay, maybe we won’t stay the night!

We untied from the wharf and then carried on a few more miles in our original direction and found another quiet, sandy spot to spend a couple of days near the pass at Taha’a (a different island but in the same fringing reef system as Raiatea). The best thing about our spot was the view of Bora Bora in the distance, looking like a giant sombrero.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Huahine – Exploring Fare town and the roads beyond

[Kyle]After a day of recovering from our psychic wounds caused by what appears to be our poor life choices, we spent a couple of days ashore in Huahine.

The first was not much to talk about. We went ashore to get the lay of the main village of Fare. We did the requisite topping up of provisions in their surprisingly enormous store and had a giant lunch at a nearby snack, which is what they call their inexpensive outdoor restaurants. They are one step up from a food truck, but for some reason are generally also less expensive.

We did two more laps of the town for thoroughness and headed a little out of its limits to see what we could find and happened upon a distillery that was closing in five minutes. We popped in and were greeted by a lovely and effusive man who seemed to be bothered not the slightest that we had arrived just then or that we couldn’t make out 80% of his rapid-fire French. He poured us a long series of heavenly liqueurs, all of his creation and all flavored from different local fruits. He did this all without any hint of any sales pressure. He seemed to be glad for the company and to show off what he had created. He didn’t have to do any more than that. His stuff spoke for itself and there was no way we were leaving without some to take away. We ended up with a bottle of dried banana flavor and one of wild mandarin. It more than blew what we had saved on lunch, but it was totally worth it.

Downtown Fare, the Distillery and the fancy Hotel Lapita Lodge

We headed out the other side of the village to the Lapita Lodge. We could not afford the tip on someone else’s drink there, but they have an excellent museum, which they were happy to let us peruse at length as long as we didn’t draw attention to the fact that we weren’t actually guests. We tried our best, but I’m not really comfortable treating service staff with disdain, so we elected instead to keep a really low profile. We exited via a walk through their beautiful restaurant to their private beach. We enjoyed the views and then walked back to the village on the regular old beach with the plebs. It was also beautiful, so no hardship there.

We were trying to kill time until the Huahine Yacht Club’s Happy Hour, but the sky opened up and looked to be staying that way for the duration. We gave up and opted for a wet dinghy ride home, where we could change into some dry clothes. As we did, we saw a lot of miserable-looking people in dinghies going the other way while hiding behind ineffective umbrellas. People do love Happy Hour.

The following morning, the rain had just stopped when we arrived ashore to collect our rented scooter for the day. This would allow us to do every tourist thing on Maryanne’s list, which was everything.

We started with a trip to Maeva, where they have another big museum and a very large archaeological site. Huahine has the largest number and best preserved archaeological sites in Polynesia so there was a lot of interesting stuff to see.

Museum and Fish Traps

We then had a look at a stone fish trap system that has been used for centuries and is still feeding people today. Following that, we took a hike up the nearby hill to a couple of other big sites to check them out. Along the way, we met a man who gave us a tip about a side spur of the trail that looked like nothing on the map. We took it on his advice and were rewarded with a giant marae platform overlooking the whole western side of the island!

Hike a hill for history and the view

Fun on the scooter

Sacred Eels (with blue eyes)

Next, we rode the scooter to the site of the so-called Sacred Eels. (Mom, you may want to make sure you’re sitting down for this one). These are giant (1-2m) eels that are apparently pretty docile. The thing to do is feed them so they will all crowd around you and be adorable. ‘Adorable as an Eel’ is not a phrase I’m familiar with, but what the hell…

We had brought along a can of mackerel just for this purpose. Well, Maryanne did. I let her bring it because I was afraid if I didn’t, she would try to feed it to me some day. When we got there, we found a couple of hopeful-looking ladies at a stand that sold a variety of foods and decided to buy another can of mackerel from them so as not to cut them out.

From that point on, what we’d read about the eel process was way off. It was better – so much better!

We collected our newly purchased can of fish and the woman who sold it to us came out from behind the counter and told us where to go with it. There were a bunch of small kids playing in the shallow river, mostly girls aged 6-8 or so. When they saw our rusty can of mackerel, they all whooped with joy and excitement like we had just arrived with a whole big sack full of Christmas presents for them.

With wide eyes and big smiles, they commandeered our can, grabbed our hands and showed us to the spot in the river where the eels like to hide under a crack in the wall. Then they went about “showing” us how to feed them. First, drain some of the liquid into the water to make it smell of fish. This started an eelpede, which is like a stampede, only with eels. A dozen or so of them, each a little bigger than an adult’s arm (a long one), slithered and writhed over each other as they vied for a spot at the front. Then the kids plunged their hands into the can and started pulling out bits of fish meat and giving them to the eels. This started a whole new wave of girly screams and giggling and rapid-fire French every time one surprised them from behind or brushed up against a leg. Then the kids started showing us tricks: Take some meat, put it on a little shelf out of the water, splash some river water onto the wall so it runs over the meat into the water, and the eels will lift themselves out of the water to get to it.

Watching the eels go crazy was entertaining, but not nearly as much as watching these adorable children act like it was the very best day they have ever had in their whole lives. When our can of mackerel was exhausted, Maryanne mentioned that we had another in our bag and the kids went NUTS! What?! Two Christmases in one day?! They dove en masse for our bag and started tugging at zippers. We were worried the contents were going to go in the river, so Maryanne convinced them to wait for me. I was surrounded by a jiggling mob whose faces were beaming with anticipation. When my hand finally emerged bearing the red-labeled can and held it high, it was as if it beamed with its own light. I released my grip and a basketball-style jump shot awarded it to the swiftest of them. They jumped back into the river and were dismayed when no fishy juices came out of the upturned can. They looked to me and found me sanguinely smiling at them and holding up a can opener in my right hand.

Up until that moment, I would have characterized myself as THE last person who would enjoy being tackled by a bunch of dripping children. That’s probably still true, but there’s an exception to every rule, right? I could not have had more fun watching them have so much fun, all for the price of two cans of fish.

We still had a few hours before we had to turn in the scooter, so we made a point of riding every road on both Huahine Nui and Huahini Iti. On the bridge connecting the two, we stopped to watch a bunch of teenagers make the 15m leap to the water below -a way to cool off and impress the girls, which wasn’t easy because they were jumping more often than the boys.

The abandoned Sofitel Hotel
We had planned for some snorkelling, but it was a bit chilly

After returning to Fare to turn in our scooter, we were wandering around in the direction of the roulettes (food trucks) when we heard the beating of drums. We decided to skip the food and follow the music. After a five-minute walk, we found what we were expecting to be a group practicing, but turned out to be the Huahine Heiva! For 200 francs ($2) each, we bought tickets and were given floor seats in the first ten rows, which was all of them.

Heiva Festival dancing

Even though the dancing wasn’t quite as polished, I liked this Heiva even better than the one in Tahiti. We were right up at the edge of the dance floor and there were no rules against walking around and taking pictures. Since most of the crowd and the dancers knew each other, it had the feeling of a big family reunion.

Afterward, we did finally make it to the yacht club’s Happy Hour, where we were able to bust in on the biggest, loudest group and spend the next few hours yarning.

We still hadn’t managed to eat, so we headed back to the roulottes and found one with a very busy guy making pizzas. We put in our order and were told to come back in an hour. Come back from where? Everything’s closed. I used the time to get the dinghy ready and Maryanne had a chat with him while he worked at full speed. She confirmed that it would not have been possible for us to get our pizza even a minute sooner. We were really hungry, but it was still too hot to eat when we got it back to the boat.