September 10th – Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
Tahiti, the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesian islands, has a natural coral reef that provides protection from dangerous weather. It is an exotic and lush land – and surprisingly modern. Papeete, the largest city in the islands, has paved streets, a thriving business district, policemen, jails, taxis, a rush hour that rivals Atlanta, and a McDonalds. Not what I expected, but beautiful nonetheless.
We were greeted on the pier by a group of Tahitians in native dress, singing and dancing. From there, we caught a boat for a tour of the Tahiti Lagoon, all the way out to a peninsula at the end of the island. On the way, we saw amazing palm trees, luxurious homes on the waterfront, and lots of canoes. Lots.
Apparently canoeing is the national pastime. There were 1-man canoes, 3-men and 6-men canoes. Even some outriggers. Eight oar strokes and switch to the other side, eight more and switch again. An aquatic ballet, a precision tuned machine, a beautiful work of art. A single-man canoe came along our boat and raced us. He actually outdistanced our boat! We learned they bring their kids into the water at a very young age and teach canoeing and water safety iall through school.
At the far end of the island, we found a most remarkable phenomena – a black sand beach! The islands in the South Pacific are of volcanic origin, which means ash. It also means most of the islands have a natural coral reef barrier all the way, or at least partially, around the island. This allows the sea surge to break a distance from the island proper, which protects the inhabitants and built up areas along the shore. It’s an amazing sight to see six foot waves crashing a half-mile offshore.
Anyway, back to the beach … our guide warned us the sand could get very hot when the sun emerged from its cloud cover. We found out firsthand just how hot. I now know what “hot foot” means. I’m sure we were a sight with our lily-white skin among all these dark-skinned, well-toned bodies as we hotfooted it across the sand to the water’s edge!
On the return trip, our guide took us outside the reef where he could increase speed. I can’t adequately explain the thrill when we happened upon a … WHALE! One broke the surface not
fifteen feet from us. The captain cut the engines while we waited for the whale to resurface. Imagine our delight when a second whale surfaced! A moment later, one after the other, they came up blowing, dove back under with a complete showing of their fantastic tails! The guide explained that meant they were going deep and probably wouldn’t resurface in our area. We also saw dolphins doing a leap-and-dive race with us for awhile.
A very satisfying day.