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Tahiti

We finally
made it to Tahiti when the French government had decided to resume nuclear
testing on the Atoll Mururoa, so Greenpeace’s
Rainbow Warrior was on its way from
NZ, and protests were being organised in Papeete. The
Tahitians didn’t want the testing done in their backyard again, and the
atmosphere was more than a little intense. The locals had barricaded the exits
out of the city. We had to walk through the protesters and around barricades to
get in and out of the city, a bit like running the gauntlet. I guess I looked
enough like a yachtie that they didn’t harass
us. This was a very big deal, causing an uproar
throughout the Pacific, and became world news while it lasted. It
lead to a hangover of boycotts of French products, such as
wine.

While the action was heating up in
Papeete, we cruised around Tahiti – there are many
spectacular anchorages with very few boats. Most people sail in and just spend
time in the main harbour of Papeete, which is a
shame, because they miss the best of Tahiti.

After spending the last two months
aboard with only 14 days near land and other people, I looked forward to the
socialising with other yachties. We had already met
many interesting and intrepid sailors. There was a big fleet of small boats
with cruisers in the 25-50 year old age range, which was a relief. We thought
we’d be surrounded by retired Seppo’s (equivalent of
a punter). Nearly everyone was heading for NZ for November, which is the start
of their summer.

We had a
few memorable adventures on our circumnav of Tahiti.
The island is absolutely stunning! The locals were very welcoming, and plied us
with huge bunches of bananas. Unfortunately, they all ripen together, so we
ended up eating so many in two days that I thought I’d never want to see
another banana. When we couldn’t down another whole banana, we got into
making banana bread, banana shakes, banana daiquiris, banana garnished curries-
anything that looked remotely compatible. Along with the bananas, we were given
fresh coconut, papaya, mango, guava, passion fruit – all delicious, and a
welcome treat after eating only canned food during the long open-water
passages. In exchange for the locals’ generosity, we gave the families a
pile of kids clothing we had stocked up with before we left Tortola.

While cruising along the
coastline, the views of the serrated peaks are stunning, and one breathtaking
valley in particular beckoned. We removed the outboard from our inflatable and
paddled through the surf line and up the river. We hopped over the side into
the refreshingly cool mountain runoff to haul the inflatable up and over a few
sets of rapids. When we could go no further we tied up to a tree on shore, and
continued our adventure on foot. After trekking to the base of some
awe-inspiring peaks, we returned to our inflatable, to find some kids had
helped themselves to our dinghy anchor. Lesson learned.

We jumped in and shoved off and
let the river pull us along on a relaxing drift. We made it unscathed through
the first couple of rapids, but the third set wasn’t so kind. We caught a
corner of a rock and slashed the floor of the inflatable. With water pouring
in, the guys paddled furiously to get us through the surf line, which had built
to Hawaii Five-0 proportions while we were ashore. Meanwhile, I bailed like a
demon with a pair of size 12 Topsiders. Thinking we were being smart, we had
removed all loose items that might go for a swim in a capsize,
such as our bailer, before paddling ashore. Too bad we removed the bailer and
not the anchor!

Another adventure was hitchhiking
over 30 miles from the anchorage to the other side of the island to attend a
fire walking ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the spectators are invited
to give it a try. Our cruising mate Craig gave it a go. Being a stalwart
Aussie, he would never admit that it was a little warm. At the end of the
evening, the next adventure was trying to hitch a ride home. Easier said then
done. I thought we’d end up sleeping on the beach! Finally a pick-up truck
stopped and we piled in atop smelly fishing gear and coolers filled with
toady’s catch.

Upon our return to Papeete we found a fleet of our cruising friends had
arrived just in time for Bastille Day. We went en masse to the traditional
dance competition. Early every morning the women from the villages gather to
weave together hundreds of beautiful costumes from the verdant foliage adorning
the island. If the dance troupe progresses to the finals, another round of
costume weaving is in order. This was truly the most spectacular part of the
competitions. Wandering backstage was a barrage on the senses. Besides being
incredibly colourful, the smell was divine.

Another part of the entertainment
was just sitting in the bleachers and watching the crowds around us, trying to
pick out who were actually young men dressed as women. This is a part of their
culture, to raise a young boy as a female. They are usually even more beautiful
than the genuine girls, complete with makeup, and nice clothes. The men in our
crowd were always more than a little embarrassed to find out they were lusting
after what they thought was a pretty young girl!

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