Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tahiti, French Polynesia: Pape'ete & Mo'ore'a

Pape’ete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

**French Polynesia encompasses 5 groups of islands: The Society Islands archipelago; the Tuamotu Archipelago [see Blog about Rangiroa]; the Gambier Islands; the Marquesas Islands [see Blog about Nuku Hiva]; and the Austral Islands.


Tahiti, located within the Society Islands archipelago, is the largest and most populated of the islands. Tahiti’s mountain peaks reach upwards to 7300 feet and house lush valleys, rainforests, waterfalls, and abundant flowers and fruit.

The bustling port capital, Pape’ete, resembles a large metropolitan city rather than the romantic swaying palm trees and grass huts I was expecting. 

 In contrast to the swaying, smooth, gentle wave-like hula moves of Hawaii, the Tahitian dance and music pulses quickly with a fiery rhythm like a volcano. It is electric and tribal, and I saw this reflected in much of the graffiti scattered throughout the city.

The hustling energy of the city shows up in the Central Market where locals sell traditional Tahitian crafts, flowers, fruits, fish, and everything in between. And given the French influence, the city does not lack outdoor cafes, coffee, and fresh baguettes. Although it was not the romanticized island landscape I have envisioned, this big city has its own personality and charm.
 In addition to French culture, the Polynesians have woven Indian and Chinese influences into their cultural tapestry. Glimpses of the Polynesian roots can be seen in the common areas, though. For example, a botanical garden and culture center; the vaka [canoe] recreational area; a tattoo parlor specializing in local artistry. And, the graffiti.


Mo’ore’a, Tahiti

When I close my eyes to picture the most idyllic place to live, my memories from here would fill my heart and mind. Mo’ore’a is Pape’ete’s beautiful sister. In contrast to the frenetic tempo of Pape’ete, Mo’ore’a’s calm demeanor reflects in her lush green mountains rising majestically over tranquil inlets harboring sailboats.

This heart-shaped island formed over a million years ago from a volcano. Originally, the island’s poetic name, Aimeo I Te Rara Varu depicted the eight majestic mountain ridges of her landscape. A high priest’s dream in later years led to the current name, which means “yellow lizard.” Natives of Pap’ete and Mo’ore’a each claim their island as inspiration for the mythical Bali Hai based on the Michener novel about the South Pacific. The jagged peaks and lush landscape complement the beautiful white sand beaches and electric blue water. 

You can circumnavigate the island via a 40-mile stretch of winding road, promising beauty and majesty at every turn.  From every viewpoint the mountains beckon you to hike them. When you do venture into the hills, you find some remarkable ancient landmarks, called marae, on which ancient stone rocks shaped like pyramids contain carvings that detail the occurrences of sacrifices. 
 Belvedere lookout, perched in the mountains between Cooks Bay and Opunohu Bay, offers breathtaking views of the ocean and the majestic peaks.

Early in the day I ventured along a local road observing chickens  and dogs wandering the streets and delivery boys bringing freshly baked baguettes [it is French Polynesia ,after all] to homes by bicycle. Although no official town exists on the island, areas along the road have a few stores selling local crafts, sarongs [pareos] and fresh fruit. Noni, papaya and mango trees, overloaded with fruit, are everywhere.