Hunting for Tikis in French Polynesia

We dropped anchor in Baie des Vierges at 10:31 to the sound of cheering from John and Andy aboard Happy Spirit, friends we first met in the San Blas islands that now seem like a world away and a lifetime ago. We spent our afternoon on board, we didn't need to go ashore, the breathtaking view from Dream Time was more than enough, at least for today. We sat on the foredeck and gazed in awe as the island before us changed in shape and color -- the setting sun streamed into the valley, filling it with a warm, tropical glow, turning cliffs into towers of bronze, moving shadows across vertical rock spires, revealing faces that have gazed out across the ocean for centuries. Palm leaves softened and became a blanket of rich, green silk draped over the island. And a soft breeze fluttered down through the valley, across the anchorage and out to sea, carrying with it the sweet, rich, poignant unmistakable scent of land.

With the sun now deep below the horizon, Dream Time rests in the comfort of Fatu Hiva's solid and reassuring embrace, providing us with relief from a world of contact motion. It's a strange feeling to think that we'll wake tomorrow and the island will still be there, it's not going anywhere, and, at least for now, neither are we.

May 8, 2009. Hiva Oa, Marquesas

Catherine Hockley writes: I know that this may sound silly, but I didn't know that the French Polynesian islands are in fact actually French. I think I thought the 'French' part was more of a descriptive flourish to make it sound more exotic but it turns out that everyone here speaks French, the French flag flies at the top of the flagpoles, and every morning there are heavenly fresh baguettes to munch on with your café au lait! I'm not sure how France managed to get hold of these beautiful islands so very far away from France, and the rest of the world, but they did and they must be pleased because it's truly a paradise here.

The islands are physically stunning with their epic black volcanic peaks covered with lush green foliage surrounded by a dazzling sapphire ocean, and the people here are mesmerizingly beautiful. We spent our first few days on Fatu Hiva a small craggy volcano of in island, and probably one of the most beautiful, replete with a Bay of Virgins, a 300-foot waterfall and a very competitive and successful football team. When we went ashore, we were pursued by curious, giggling children who were thrilled when we returned the next day with photos we had taken of them the day before, along with the requisite candy and pens.

At our next stop, Hiva Oa, a larger island and the final resting place of the French impressionist Paul Gauguin, we anchored in Traitors Bay along with 20 or so other boats. Happily there are a few restaurants and hotels here so the ice cream predicament has been resolved for the time being and although it's expensive, I don't think you can put a price on ice cream after a 3,000 mile ocean crossing. Last night we were lucky enough to be in town for a Polynesian dance festival held at the towns' sports hall. It was a spectacular exhibition of traditional and modern Polynesian dance and music, and everyone from the island, including all their many many children, had come to watch and eat scrumptious French pastries and it was just lovely being temporarily included in this huge happy family of people enjoying an island evening out.

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