When boarding my flight in the end of April, I only have a vague idea of what to expect from French-Polynesia. Tahiti to me meant flower chains and tropical weather, that”s it, never heard of Bora Bora let alone Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha”a. Having now spent almost a month in the South Pacific, I”m fully charged with experiences and quite contradictory impressions of local life.
Tahiti with its 117 islands covers 4000m³ of the ocean, a surface equaling the size of Europe. Moving between the islands with our sailing boat can take various amounts of time, 2-6 hours at times, other times 2-4 total days in a row. History has marked the country to a great deal. Explored 1776 by famous navigator James Cook, that was the beginning of the occupation of French-Polynesia by the Europeans, christianisation and its final colonisation through France in 1842. Polynesian religion, culture and language were oppressed for many centuries; today they are slowly but steadily regaining significance in society and everyday life. For entertainment of not only tourists but also the local population the performance of traditional dances is very typical.
The most important cultural event of the year spanning multiple weeks is the annual Heiva i Tahiti festival in the end of June/beginning of July, for which singing and dancing groups of each village or town in French-Polynesia start preparations already in April, practising performances and designing hand-crafted costumes. To my delight I was able to watch one of these groups working out on between the ocean and the street on Bora Bora featuring 4 percussion artists and 12 dancers. Quite a lovely hip swing those ladies. People here are very friendly, open and generous. Regardless their age they greet and welcome you warmly, they wave and smile at you and even send you off with fruits if you stare in awe at their trees a little too long.
I was amazed by the friendlyness of a young mother who gave us a ride to Bora Bora beach and offered to bring us back two hours later, which she did plus she even waited until we had all finished watching the spectacular sunset. Depending on the each island”s size, there are one or two townships for You have heard that alcohol withdrawal and buy-detox.com programs can be very unpleasant. the worldly things in life: supermarket, bank, post office, pharmacy. Apart from that the islands have a pretty residential character, people usually live on the coast line rather than in the center which is hilly and steep due to the vulcanic origin. Most families even have a mailbox for baguettes, freshly baked bread delivered to them every morning. When exploring our destination we often rented bicycles or scooters. I especially enjoyed watching life on a Sunday or public holiday.
I saw people playing Petanque or Boule, a traditional French leisure activity mostly for older gentlemen although here often the whole village was playing. One meets also to fish or swim or to pick coconuts from the trees to drink its juice or enjoy the young white flesh. At one occasion when seeing this I stopped my scooter and engaged with a young woman who gently picked me a fruit as well while enthousiastically telling me about her occupation as a lifewatch. She helps people finding their inner balance. Well, if that wasn”t meant to be. To find my inner balance I tried to move and take in impressions in rather slowly, on the left the beautiful bays, the water, transparent, turquoise, green or deep blue, on the right a rich green tropical vegetation with palms and hibiscus plants growing up the steep vulcanic mountains.
One time on Raiatea I stopped the bike, turned off the motor and heard….nothing. Absolute silence apart from birds chirping and some distinct noises from a house nearby. It was beautiful. While cruising around, I also tried to identify differences in people”s social status although I found it hard to understand. Simple huts sit next to proper houses made of various materials, whether or not the area is well maintained seems to depend on the family, people have multiple cars and often one sees old rusty cars rotting away in the backyards. Dogs are everywhere and so are chicken which are kept to keep away insects from the house.
Only on Bora Bora differences in social status were quite easy to point out, many people drive large trucks which might be a consequence of US Americans stationed on the island in WWII which has an impact on the local population”s lifestyle until today. What I found particularly interesting is the fact that there are almost no sandy white beaches on French-Polynesia”s main islands. Those can be found rather on the little limestone islands called “motu” which is also where the world”s nicest luxury hotel industry created resorts and top level accommodation. Hence the typical (luxury) tourist might not discover the actual life on the islands unless he is willing to take a ferry and explore.
At the same time, why bother if there are also incredible snorkeling and diving spots close by. I had already made the aquaintance with sting rays and blacktip reef sharks on Moorea and now had the pleasure to meet a manta ray literally face to face on Bora Bora. The animal had come to the marina to enjoy supper, plancton that is, and the marina chef encouraged me to dive into the water to watch the ray swim. My heart was racing like crazy when I saw the animal gracefully diving straight towards me with its enormous wings and a giant open mouth. Luckily for me it”s vegetarian and the ray changed direction about two meters from my face. Crazy!
Watching life in French-Polynesia left me with mixed feelings. There were two occasions when I witnessed how quickly locals become heated or even start a fist fight. A French women who lives and works on Bora Bora as a massage therapist and singer told me about alcohol issues and domestic violence in many families; also she observes a kind of warrior mentality in many people, they like to fight. Maybe that is also because there is not much to do on the islands? Another woman confirms that while living at slow pace in a stunning environment of sun and ocean, entertainment and culture are missing almost completely. That would explain why the local population spends months diligently preparing songs, cances and costumes to shine and amuse themselves at the annual festival. On the whole I was impressed by the variety of impressions I gathered and I thouroughly enjoyed exploring the islands in many conversations and observations. Au plaisir, paradis !