Posts Tagged ‘French Polynesia’

The Big City

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

The city was both a relief and a stress after a couple of months in the back of beyond. Papeete is a very unique place. We already made our point that the people are the most interesting thing in town but we did experience some uniquely Tahitian scenery and food.

It turns out we were only 2 degrees of separation from some very friendly staff at the Intercontinental. So we anchored in front of the infinity pool…


and sort of experienced what its like to hang around in a luxury hotel with a great view of Moorea.


We got some great help from our friends there and are convinced that the rainbow over the Intercontinental is just part of the service.

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French Polynesia is widely condemned as unreasonably expensive due to vague influences of French socialism, European style entitlements, Polynesian socioeconomic customs, guilt money for nuclear test and a whole litany of bad influences for the fixed income traveler. We were more confused by the economy than horrified at the prices. Some things are nearly free, like bread and flour. Some things that should be free are quite expensive, like local fruit. New Zealand lamb neck chops are cheap and plentiful. Fuel is duty free for visiting boats and as cheap as anywhere we’ve been.

Prices for eating out were all over the chart. We tried a bit of the bistro lifestyle and left some Poly Francs in our wake.


Then we found these mobile truck restaurants. We call them Truckstaurants.


They set up tables in a vacant lot and have identical menus revolving around steak, stirfry and Russian potato salad (!?!) with beets. The heart of the operation is a butane fired wok, a cooler full of drinks and a grill for steak frites.


We had some great steak frites and the price was what you’d spend for a sweet, sweet brewpub cheeseburger in Seattle.


Tahitians are primarily defined by their beauty…

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and the sea…

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which sounds great until you win the Miss Tahiti competition and have to judge tuna cleaning competitions.

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We spent long enough in Papeete but wished we were back as soon as we left.

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17°32.62’S 149°34.22’W   02-Jul-10 01:49 UTC

Candid Papeete

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Papeete is a place where grit meets paradise and the story is in the faces.

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Bus Stop Girl…

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and her mom.

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The city is full of young romantics and some of them are disgusted that they have to wait for a bus on their honeymoon.

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The end of a long day at the building supply warehouse.

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Burning off the product of cheese product.

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The Manfish

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Young Menfish

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Bus Girl

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Packing up the fruit

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Bus Stop Boy

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Sweet shoulders!

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Sweet face!

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The finger of accusation.

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She sells cucumbers by the seashore

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A map of the mind

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The daughter will probably remain single all the way through high school. The son can’t wait to get his coconut engraved.

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Southern winter fashion

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Planthead ladies

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Modern Polynesia

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Classical Polynesia (with friend)

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Coolest guy in the fish market

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Manta Mom

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He’s going back some day… come what may…

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A loaf of bread, a jug of Coke, and thou

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The chic French family

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Purple Mango Man

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Dress Seller (with goggles)

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Big Dog

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The Cafe Lifestyle (with strong Gallic nose and scooter)

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Little Boy Blue (with blue wedgie)

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The Phases of Island Manhood

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17°34.35’S 149°37.26’W   01-Jul-10 01:49 UTC

The Birds of Bird Island (as we know it), Tahanea Atoll

Friday, June 4th, 2010

There is a motu within Tahanea Atoll where no rats live.

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There are very few such places on the planet. Among thousands of micro-islands strewn like strands of pearls across the Tuamotu Archipelago, Bird Island is unusually rat free, and unusually bird infested.

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The primary residents are frigate birds,

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mysterious white terns with beguiling eyes that we’ll call Fairy terns


and mysterious delicate black birds that we’d like to  call the endangered Tuamotu Sandpiper but in fact must recognize as Black Noddys.


These noddys spend their days on other islands and can be seen crossing the atoll in great flocks to Bird Island each evening. When they get there they hang around in the trees and periodically hop up to fly around in circles.


The Fairy Terns like to sit inside the jungle canopy where it’s very hard to fly


they flit around with incredible speed


and hover in place…


until they find the perfect parking spot. Five minutes later they take off for a loop around the island and do it all over again.


The frigate birds are all “in the family way” or hoping to get there.


Ah, fatherhood!


These frigate-faced baby birds are fearless of the photographer.


There seem to be a couple of grades, some unhatched, some newly hatched


and some toddlers.


And while the frigate bird is not high on the list of birds with beautiful facial features,  they do improve with age.


Family rearing space is limited and drama does break out among the neighbors  when an adult comes home after a hard day of harassing terns and has to compete for a ladybird’s attention.

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16°52.33’S 144°47.40’W   03-Jun-10 00:59 UTC

Makemo: Days on the Beach

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

There are several islands, or “motus,” that surround an atoll.

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We spent several days at Makemo going ashore on this one.

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We passed hours watching the creatures who hung out in the shallows. The shallows were so active that we stopped snorkeling among the bossy black tip sharks …

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and just watched the reef from the beach. 

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The little sharks were still curious enough to swim up to our feet in inches of water.

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We’ve been chasing these Picasso Triggerfish across the Pacific for a good picture. They are very camera shy but didn’t suspect us taking pictures with a long lens from above.

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There was some suspicious wrasse behavior going on in the shallowest of shallows. This Surge Wrasse looked guilty of some bodily function or other.

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There were lots of little morays. This one was trapped in a tide pool just big enough for him to turn around in.  He seemed confident that the tide would come in before he turned into moray jerky and tried to menace us from the other side of the liquid-gas phase barrier.

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The red crabs were equally happy in or out of the water.

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This coral colony paid a price for miscalculating the tide range but bravely pushed its live edge onward into the shallows.

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This attractive fellow was drying out either his head or his butt, who can say with a sea cucumber?

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S braved the ankle biters long enough to catch a gang of Convict Tangs commuting through a shallow pass to the offshore side of the atoll.

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K braved the long pointy beak of a serene frigate bird long enough to capture a few bird details.

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Somewhere a Muppet Show is missing its Gonzo.

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The bird-folk among you will also recognize this little grey (sooty?) palm tern.

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We spent the remainder of the days admiring the tropical plants (these white blossoms tinted the evening breeze in the anchorage with a scent much like honeysuckle),

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walking across the island,

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hunting the low-hanging coconuts (“lowconuts”),

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fulfilling our hammock-testing duty,

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and just enjoying the view.

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But what do you do if you forget your shoes??

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16°26.70’S 143°57.77’W 27-May-10 02:19 PDT

Tuamotus Passage, Part 1: It’s All Part of the Adventure, Right?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

(now with pictures!)

We said farewell to the Marquesas on Thursday morning, May 13, setting off at 8 AM for what we thought would be a short passage to the atolls of the Tuamotus.  Our selected atoll, Makemo, was 500 miles to the southwest.  Guessing we’d make an average speed of at least 5 knots, we planned to be at the pass into the atoll at noon on Monday, only 4 days and 4 hours away.  Timing is important in Tuamotus; the tidal currents in most of the passes in the atolls are much stronger than we could hope to manage with our engine (some up to 10 kts), so we had to make our entry at slack water.

We had 20 knots of wind on the beam as we left Nuku Hiva and Khamseen scooted along at over 6 knots.  For a brief period we were concerned we’d get there too early.  No problem though, the wind slackened as we passed west of Ua Pou and stayed around 10 knots.  Now we were going a bit too slow but we had lots of time to make it up – we thought.    We had a nice easy passage over the next couple of days – downright boring, just how we like it.  

Then on Sunday morning the wind totally died.  Reluctantly we started the engine.  We estimated we had 70 gallons of our Mexican diesel left, but since we won’t be able to buy any more until we reach Tahiti, we didn’t want to use it all up getting to our first atoll.  We looked at our nav software to weigh our options and found another atoll, Raroia, which lay at the perfect distance for us to reach it by Monday morning.  We eased the throttle up only as much as necessary to keep to the schedule, and soon we were making progress again at about 4 knots.  We were happy; Raroia looked interesting, had a small village, and was a bit off the beaten track.  We had only one more day to go.  Plus, in the calm conditions, the seabirds pointed out a school of tuna right in front of the boat.  K deployed the buzz bomb and within a minute had snagged a gorgeous tuna.  Life was good.

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Things changed dramatically as the night came on.  

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A low pressure system far to the south slung a frontal system our way.  The wind increased to near 20 kts so the sails came back out.  Unfortunately the breeze was right on our nose and the seas increased too to a short chop, so forward progress was miserably slow and bouncy.  Then a series of small squalls came up through the darkness that repeatedly threw gusts at us of over 20 knots (quick – reef the sails!) then just as quickly died away (long enough to fool us into easing the reefs back out), but not before drenching the watchman to the bone.  It was one of those nights that made S wonder where the next bus stop was.

By Monday morning the squalls were gone but due to our slow progess overnight we knew we’d have to give up on Raroia and once again decided that Makemo was the place to be.  Perfect!  We cracked off the wind a hair and started sailing again at 6 knots and the motion of the boat was much improved.   Though we now had to add one more day to our passage, it didn’t matter so much, we were making good progress, and one more day wasn’t so bad.  The wind eased throughout the day but we managed to sail until about 2 AM before the wind died once again.  But this time the sea was calm; it was a beautiful night and we were able to time our slow motoring to make it to the northern pass at Makemo in time for slack water at the high tide. 

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We arrived at 7:30 AM – plenty of time to take a good look at the pass and make our entry when conditions looked right. 

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We watched the pass and snuck closer.  We sighted the rangemarkers and other points of reference indicated in our guidebook.  We had our cheat sheets with nav instructions.  We tested K’s conning position up at the spreaders. 

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We watched some more and tested the waters, but the current leading to the pass seemed to be getting more and more agitated.  We backed away.  We turned again toward the pass.  K wanted to ease in and measure the current; S voted to wait.  K, with the requisite testosterone level and oceanographic curiosity, took the helm and started in.  As we got closer to the pass entrance, the sea started looking more and more reminiscent of Deception Pass in Washington – surface boils and whirlpools, and in the distance standing waves just outside the entrance.  Hmmm, why would it be so rough outside the entrance when the tide was supposed to be flooding in, not coming out?  We continued on until the current against us was 5 knots faster than our forward progress and we were reluctant to push our engine any harder.  We turned tail and were quickly flushed offshore.  As we sat there scratching our heads, rechecking our tide tables, and looking up “when is slack tide?” in our French dictionary, a couple of local fishermen came by in their skiff.  We couldn’t understand all they were saying, but we did get the message that – most likely due to the frontal system we’d encountered with its strong south winds – the seas had overtopped the southern end of the atoll and, much like a bathtub, raised the water level inside the lagoon.  All that water was now apparently draining through the two passes, creating much rougher conditions than normal.  The bottom line was that it would not be possible for us to enter, the pass was in full ebb mode all the time. 

What now?  Luckily it was only 9 AM, so we had plenty of daylight left.  We considered our options and decided to head for the other pass into the atoll, this one located on the northwestern end, where  the guidebook said there was a shoal outside the entrance where a boat could anchor and wait for the right conditions for entering.  Of course, this pass was upwind and the wind was only 5 knots.  With little choice we throttled up the engine again and headed for the other pass, 25 miles distant.  Though we were undeniably frustrated and disappointed, we tried to keep a positive attitude and see the humor in all this; after all, it’s all part of the adventure, right?

16°26.65’S 143°57.20’W   19-May-10 03:47 UTC

Ua Pou

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

We sailed north from Fatu Hiva stopping overnight at Tahuata where the palm trees were thick and the mango trees labored under huge loads of mangoes.


We were escorted by energetic dolphins,


to the spires of Ua Pou.


These peaks are camera shy. They peek through the clouds one by one, always ensuring that their neighbors are fully cloaked before they take a turn. 


We sailed around the north end of the island and saw these peaks from multiple angles before we anchored ourselves directly before them at the village of Hakahetau.


The village was more relaxed than most due to the poor ferry and dinghy access.  Not a lot of visitors come through here and it was the first place we saw the traditional woven mat construction (along with the now-traditional satellite dish).


There were other characters out of the past still in action. This codger had a farm several miles back into the bush.


His front door view was something like this:


The government has invested in several kiosks displaying multi-lingual posters of the various attributes of the island.  With promises of a loop trail where we’d see two small waterfalls (the blue dots) and an archeological site (the red splotch), we traipsed up what felt like several miles of gravelly road through the woods, gathering windfall fruit  and ‘encouraging’ other roadside fruit to fall along the way. 

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We must’ve taken a wrong turn because we never found any waterfalls, and the road ended at the front gate of a splendid garden.   We were greeted by a fierce guard dog, but luckily his owner, Terés, came out and called him off while we were still intact.    Terés, a native islander, and her Dutch husband have what appears to us to be an ideal spread, complete with abundant fruit trees, chickens, and milk goats.   She invited us up to her open-air kitchen and served cold limeade while we sat and tried to chat in bits of French and English.  K quizzed them mercilessly about the various goat products on offer on the island.   Terés made a face when asked if she makes goat cheese and told us her goats are only for milk; she doesn’t like the smell of goat cheese.  Her husband recommended a man to see in the village if we were interested in going on a goat hunt.  We foolishly passed on her offer of a cup of homegrown coffee, but accepted her offer of three of the largest avocados we’ve ever seen.  She refused our request for a photo before we left, but allowed us to take one of her dog.

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We made our way back to the boat and retired to the cockpit to watch the local lads race around the bay,


while the sunset set fire to the volcanic plug and made the cold lava glow again.


09°21.86’S 140°06.25’W 24-Apr-10 04:30 PDT

Fatu Hiva From Below

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Fatu Hiva doesn’t have the best reef or visibility in the world but for us it has been the most memorable time in the water in the last 20 years (“and how!” as Grandma Kelley would say).

The regular cast of characters were all there – and then some.




juvenile Triggerfish only a few centimeters long…


a flashy Lionfish…


a well-disguised Stonefish…


morays with Cleaner Wrasses and red-eyed crabs…


(These Cleaner Wrasses were very interested in K but not so much in S. K assumed they just wanted their pictures taken, S thinks they saw a lot of material to work with.)


one of S’s favorites – a little Lemonpeel Angelfish with comical blue eyeliner…


dapper peppermint shrimp with blue shoulders (who thinks this stuff up?)…


and lots of octopuses.


In a stroke of luck we even parked the dinghy directly over this huge manta ray


Then we went around a point with a crazy keyhole arch


and were minding our own business when a dozen of these 6 footers suddenly showed up and milled around less than 10 ft away from us with unnerving curiosity.


It seemed like a very long swim back to the dinghy only 100 ft away (on the other side of the sharks). We tried to whistle nonchalantly in our snorkels as we passed.  It must have worked. For a short time we thought they might want to eat us (S looked just like a yummy ocean cupcake in her flowery shorts) but after reflection, K thinks this pack of hammerheads was acting like a pack of friendly neighborhood dogs (S thinks: yeah, a pack of 6-ft long, extremely toothy neighborhood dogs!). 

They were probably just looking for any goats that may have fallen off the very steep cliffs surrounding the bay where they’ve lived since Captain Cook brought them here 200 years ago. Who can blame a shark?

10°28.36’S 138°40.50’W 10-Apr-20 12:30 PDT

Hanavave Falls, Fatu Hiva

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

There is a famous waterfall about an hour outside the village.

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At times the occasional stone markers in the jungle were our only clue that we were going the right way.

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It was a hot muddy trek to the falls but worth the effort.

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The pond is home to crawfish and blue eyed eels. To S’s relief we only saw crawfish.

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After swimming over for a crawfish eye view of the falls,

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and a c-nut snack,

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we took the scenic rode home, climbing a ridge to see the anchorage.

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The view of the valley was incredible.

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K really wanted to go see this hole in the rock curtain just below the top of the ridge but it would have taken days to get there.

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We passed a Mary spring in the side of a hill and stopped to have a sip. As you’d expect, the Mary water was miraculous; it was cool and clear and didn’t taste at all like the crawfish that were living in the catchment. 

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We also saw reminders of the pre-Christian era. This gent was probably the well-endowed chairman of the ancient village.

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We left the 6 ton petroglyph in place and brought home coffee beans instead.

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10°27.80’S 138°37.75’W 10-Apr-18 12:30 PDT

Le Petit Village

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The village of Hanavave on the island of Fatu Hiva gives many edenistic impressions to the casual observer fresh from a long ocean passage. 


We began our investigation of this community in the small but heavily attended Catholic church on Sunday morning.

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There was lots of guitar and uke playing, with strong vocals from the packed pews.

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The entire service was in Marquesan except for a spicy Marquesan-French message about the habits and pitfalls of unmarried couples.  This part was very entertaining for the young people, including our new friend Marie.

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Marie brought us home to check out her husband’s carvings and then loaded us up with free bread fruit, lemons, and starfruit even though we didn’t initially buy anything. She had an awesome fruit picking net …


and a groovy turtle tattoo.

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We gave her kids some stickers and lifesavers. Candy was in high demand among the village kids, one enterprising 8 year old had set himself up as a godfather in the local Bonbon Mafia. They shook down S for half a bag of Jolly Ranchers and then came back for more after performing an inventory audit that showed  irregularities in the distribution.  Other kids were normal. Bobo and his sister both liked lifesavers without extremism.

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There were lots of cute kids in the village.

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On Sunday afternoon the local tots were turned out into the boat basin to frolic among the dock lines.

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We strolled into the suburbs and began to appreciate daily life in this place.

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The houses were all lightly built, off the ground in the standard Polynesian style.

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Everyone had a banana rack and a boat out back.


Some of the boats were beautiful outriggers that don’t see much use anymore.


We passed pigs, chickens, copra drying sheds and at least one candidate for “What Not to Wear.”

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We put down an offer on this one room retirement home (it’s within our projected budget)

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and made our out way out of town and into the bush.

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10°27.80’S 138°39.75’W 10-Apr-18 12:30 PDT

Baie Hanavave, Fatu Hiva

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

This bay is advertised by the French as the most beautiful bay in the world. They are probably right.


Curtains of rock enclose the bay on three sides.

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Spires and pillars tower above the tiny village among the palms.


While most of this landscape is the domain of birds and goats…

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there is a rift in the mountain wall cut by  a cold stream

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and a path into the jungle beyond.

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It’s a challenging anchorage. We dropped the hook in 90 ft and payed out 200 ft of chain plus 100 ft of rode. The steep walls of the valley funnel very strong gusts into the anchorage. Most nights it rained intermittently leaving the sleeper with the options of wet and cool or dry(er) and hot.

10°27.89’S 138°40.16’W 10-Apr-17 12:30 PDT