A traveler, after being home for a while, begins to get itchy feet and think about places to go and things to do in the world. In the beginning of summer 2015, I put together plans for visiting a region in the South Pacific, another area I have not traveled. I was very excited to go to places that still remain pristine and unspoiled.
I prepared for the trip, and in late November, I flew from Maine to Tahiti. It is a long journey, with planes filled to capacity, and it is a good feeling to reach the final destination, Papeete, in Tahiti, French Polynesia. Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and Tahiti is the center of the French Polynesian Islands. There are 118 islands and atolls and motus. The islands look like tiny dots in the Pacific Ocean, yet spread out, they cover an area as large as Europe.
I am always interested in the history of an area, and I soon learned that the settlement of the Pacific was brought about by three groups from Micronesia, Melanesia, and the Polynesian Triangle of Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand. The islands are isolated today, since they are not on any main shipping route.
A few days after I flew to Tahiti, I was on a small ship. Our captain told me that at a naval station on one of the islands, the radar screen operator reported seeing a tiny white dot on the screen. They thought it was an iceberg floating north from Antarctica, but it was the small ship of this sea captain! They do not see many boats.
The population of Tahiti and French Polynesia speak French or Mauri, and the lifestyle is casual. Many natives wear pareus (aka pareos), as the villages are along the shores of the island, and the water is part of their daily lives. The lagoons are a beautiful turquoise with white sand beaches. The island origins are volcanic, like all of the Pacific islands, and they are completely surrounded by coral reefs. The reefs are growing and the islands over millions of years are slowly receding into the sea. The interior of Tahiti and the other islands are still natural rain forest, with villages only along the shore.
The people are not prosperous and agriculture is the prime means of income. The main crop is copra, which is dried coconut meat, often used to make coconut oil. Fishing is secondary and tourism is a low third, with crafts sold to a few tourists. The few islands with roads only have them along the shore line. The same is true with airports: the runways are along the shore. Tahiti has one of the only ports; the southern and eastern peninsula of the island still have no roads.
I was hoping to see the art work of Paul Gaugain, but the museum in Papeete is closed and will not open for several years. Gaugain put Tahiti on the map at a time when it was unknown to society. Later, it was often in the news when Marlon Brando lived here. Now it is a vacation paradise for those willing to travel a great distance.
One of the first and most awesome things noticed when coming to Tahiti is the fragrant and colorful flowers. The vegetation is luscious and green. The other wonderful thing is the people: they are helpful, friendly, and very welcoming. “This is a paradise!” was my first impression, and that thought remained during the weeks I stayed there.
(posted January 19, 2015)