Tahiti (Polynesia)After a pretty lumpy sail to Tahiti we arrived at 1:30 am, in the lee of the island, and entered Papeete harbour with no dramas. I must hand it to the French in Polynesia, all the channels, passes, and harbours are well marked and lit. Every major harbour, or port, we’ve entered had range lights which you could follow even at night. We tied up to the quay for the night, did our official check-in in the morning, then proceeded down to the large anchorage past the airport. We didn’t expect the 100 or so boats scattered around the marina. Once again, a deep anchorage but, with a lot more boats than we are used to. Oh well, ce la vie as the French would say.
The nice thing is got to catch up with many boaters that we hadn’t got to know well in the past and also those we knew or hadn’t seen for a while. Our first night we went to see a group from the Austral islands performing in the “Haiva” festival. This was part of the inter-island dance competition that goes on for a couple of weeks. The festival brings islanders together from every corner of French Polynesia to compete in song and dance, display craft and art, compete in traditional sports and some new ones. It’s main purpose is to revive and promote traditional Polynesian culture, lifestyle, and pride. Between the whalers, traders, occupiers, and especially the missionaries, the Polynesians were almost wiped out . Only through the paintings and diaries of people such as Paul Gaugain (the painter), and Captain Cook, can we begin to understand how idealic their life used to be. Paradise lost seems to come to mind.
The dancing and singing that night transported us back in time – if just for a few hours it was worth it – to a place and peoples who just enjoyed life in a land of plenty. We were absolutely mesmerized by the colourful costumes, the tribal beats, and truly beautiful people. Our photographs jus don’t do them any justice but, it’s all we have to share with you. Two nights later we went to see another troupe with a modern take on a traditional theme. The most spectacular dancer was the transvestite, in the hot red outfit, who did an incredibly sexy solo number. Transvestites are common and completely accepted in Polynesia. Just like the Kunas, in the San Blas, some families will raise a son as a daughter should they have only boys. We have seen quite a few so far.
Apart from the dancing we cruised the artisans stalls where the best craftwork in the nation was on display. In the past, all craft had to made with 100% local products or it wasn’t admitted into the craft show. Nowadays some imported materials are allowed, in combination, whether this is a good idea I’m not sure. The main categories were, carving (bones, shells, wood, stone), jewelry (black pearls, mother of pearl, shells), weaving (bags, hats, mats, chests, screens, and even walls for huts), and patchwork quilts. It’s amazing what these people can make from local materials. Unfortunately many items are out of our price range, e.g. A $3000 necklace at a craft fair!! We wanted to buy many things but, had to restrain ourselves to more affordable items.
The sports competitions were also a big crowd draw and we watched several outrigger canoe races and a local mini Olympics. Sports included running with fruit on each end of a pole slung on your shoulder, spear throwing, rock lifting, etc. June/July is a good time to be in Tahiti for sure.
The Gaugain museum and attached botanical gardens are also worth a visit. Gaugain was upset at the changes occurring throughout Polynesia and decided to record as much of the local culture as possible. He did it quite eloquently and preserved a peoples for time immemorial. The gardens were an absolute joy to wander through, in the heat of the day , and enjoy the coolness of many species of tropical trees and flowering shrubs. Would make a hell of a backyard.
We’ve had a great time here and would recommend it to all. Just be sure to bring lots of money as Polynesia is definitely not cheap. Prices here are on par with Europe.