A Celtic odyssey to French Polynesia.

TAHITI_MAP_200717

All either of us had known about Tahiti was, that it was this idyllic south sea Island paradise, located somewhere within the Pacific Ocean. So, prior to our journey there in 2006, there was much swatting up to do.

Our great south sea holiday adventure commenced with an epic air journey: Dublin – London – Los Angeles – Tahiti. When you say that quickly it doesn’t sound much, but it amounted to a marathon twenty three hours in the air, with only a short two hour ground respite, in Los Angeles. We were pretty tired by the time we arrived to Los Angeles and did our best to grab some rest, in my case unsuccessfully, in the terminal building before our flight was called for Tahiti.

We eventually boarded the flight at L.A. and after the fourteen hour marathon air lap, eventually arrived at our much anticipated destination, Tahiti.

We were bathed in the most luxurious of tropical balmy air while descending the steps from our aircraft to the hot tarmac. We made our way the short distance on foot to the arrivals building, which by typical airport standards, was a small building. The process of check through and luggage collection was refreshingly laid back, and we were quite impressed by the friendliness and warmth, of all of those whom we encountered at the airport. If the airport building and surroundings were unremarkable, we were in for a treat when we got outside, because the lush green countryside was just glorious.

The national flower of Tahiti is the Tiare, a delightful small white gardenia, which abounds everywhere. We enjoyed its adorning roadside presence en-route to our hotel and were gladly surrounded by its delicate loveliness again, within the lush surroundings of the hotel gardens.

Our hotel was more like a small paradise village than what one might imagine, as a classic hotel. Its reception area was a bungalow style building, nestling among sumptuous flower beds and fruit laden mango trees. Its apartments were akin to detached bungalows as they nestled among the greenest of tall vegetation and colourful flower beds. Flag stone paths meandered between apartments, reception, and restaurant and also out to the stunning ocean frontage. A long stony beach, defining one length of the boundary, of our paradise village.

It was early morning local time. We were tired and hungry, so following check in and first visit to our apartment, we decided to head to the restaurant for breakfast. What a vista. The sun was already up. The birds were chirping. The sounds and smells of the ocean filled our senses, as did the soothing rustling of the lush foliage, in a warm and gentle morning breeze. Gosh, we truly were in heaven. We forgot our tiredness and just sat a while, at the restaurant terrace, soaking in the delightful surroundings.

I do believe that nature can reflect the character of a local people and nature chose to tell us something, on that very first day, in lovely Tahiti. A very welcoming member of restaurant staff took our breakfast order, and while we awaited arrival of what we had ordered, we were treated to a number of visitations, both to the ground at our feet, and to our table top, by several beautiful tiny bird species. It was as if they were the encore, to the sensory delights, which this lovely place had to offer. Our breakfast experience on that day, was the first of so many delightful alfresco dining experiences, which subsequently we were destined to enjoy, throughout our stay, on lovely Tahiti.

When we travel great distances across time zones we really do get quite disorientated, in this regard, yours truly was no different. We had decided that I would leave my watch set to Irish time and that my friend would set her watch to local time; so far so good. Well, in the earlier part of the holiday, on one particular morning, I awoke naturally (wide awake). I showered, dressed and was into the sloppy business of trying to apply some suntan lotion, when my friend awoke, and asked me if I was aware of what time it was. I said I guess it’s close to 8am. She said you can guess again. It’s 4:30am. That was some shocker eh? What could I do? Wide awake and ready get stuck into the tourist thing. I had to settle for reading a book, to whittle away the time, until breakfast.

Life is full of surprises and holiday time is no different. Tropical showers can be mighty; well, tropical. On one of the days, we had decided on a particular plan of tour action, which involved taking a taxi, for part of the journey. As it happened, before the taxi arrived, and following a few intimidating thunder claps, it had started to rain. The rain got heavier, just as the taxi arrived. Believe it or not we had a brolly with us, as you do of course, if you are Irish.

When we opened the front door of the apartment, we saw the taxi parked at the grass verge, and the rain coming down in sheets, with mighty tropical force. Such was the force that rain drops were bouncing back up, from the surface of the roadway. The taxi was one of those people carriers, with a sliding door at the side. I put the brolly up and escorted her good self, under cover, safely over and into the taxi. The rain was driving so heavily, that I had to hold the brolly well down over my own head, to try and remain dry. However, fully down the brolly would have to go, before I could board the taxi. So, I stood back slightly, and with the brolly still obscuring my forward vision, pulled it down rapidly, put my foot on the threshold of the taxi doorway, and lunged forward to get in. Next thing I knew, I was laying on my back on the wet grass verge, seeing stars. I had not seen the low roof line of the taxi, and had whacked the top of my head off it with such force, that it had propelled me back, with an equal and opposite force. Good auld Newton; he never fails to visit when you don’t need him. Needless to say, the sympathy laughter from inside the taxi, cleared the stars away as fast as no Oscars in Hollywood might. Anyway, thankfully I survived, to continue with my exotic touristing.

Neither of us would describe ourselves as religious people. However, whenever travelling, my friend likes to visit local churches appreciating the associated architecture and art. While on Tahiti, one such visit was to grant us a rare and real treat. On the first Sunday of our stay, with a little local assistance, we found our way to a nearby church. While it was a modern looking building outside, it was a bright and airy, though very warm gathering space, on the inside. We noted that all the women present were wearing similar garb i.e. broad brimmed straw hats, and cream coloured linen dresses. However, it was the music and the singing which was so very beautiful. Melodic choral tones with traditional south sea instrumental backing graced and soothed our hearing. The music was delightfully other worldly, with its attendant therapeutically mesmerising effect. We were sorry indeed, when the ceremony finally came to a conclusion.

On the following day we decided to sign up for a bus tour of Tahiti. While we were at the hotel reception awaiting the arrival of our tour bus, I got into conversation with a Japanese gentleman. As it turned out, he also was taking the bus tour and so our conversation had an opportunity to develop. He introduced himself as Kazuo Hirabayashi. He said that this visit, marked the closure of a four year absence for him, from Tahiti and that his previous visit, had been one of sadness during which he had scattered the ashes of his late wife, into the ocean off Moorea, a neighbouring island, which they both loved, and had visited often, in earlier years.

Kazuo spoke excellent English, and we quickly discovered, he also had a delightfully keen sense of humour. In meeting Kazuo, we had come upon someone with an extended knowledge of Tahiti, and its neighbouring islands. He had retired at 60, following which he and his wife had regularly visited both New Caledonia, and Tahiti. Our holiday experience was about to be significantly enhanced, by the lucky happenstance, of encountering this amiable Japanese gentleman.

Actually, gentleman is perhaps a less than adequate description of Kazuo. As Kazuo relayed to us, the full story of his Tahiti connection, it did not take us long to realise that we were actually in the presence of a lovely, caring human being. Apparently, some years back, while holidaying in Tahiti Kazuo’s wife had suffered a stroke. She had need of emergency hospitalisation in Tahiti and had been looked after very well; so well, that after a partial recovery they were able to travel home to Japan.

Although his wife was now disabled, and confined to a wheel chair, Kazuo looked after her, in every detail, with particular loving care. He looked after her meals, washed her hair, applied her makeup, including her nail polish and in her wheel chair, took her with him, everywhere. If fact, when his wife was stronger, they subsequently travelled back to Tahiti, to extend personal thanks to those, who had been so kind to them previously. I suppose one might say that, in many ways, Kazuo was a man ahead of his time.

Despite the subjects sombre nature, characteristic of Kazuo’s innate sense of humour, while ending his story about the scattering of his wife’s ashes, Kazuo said that his wife was now “swimming with the fishies”.

During our bus tour, Kazuo suggested if we wished to take a ferry trip to Moorea (a neighbouring Island) the following day, he would be happy to accompany us and act as our personal tour guide. Needless to say we were thrilled, and immediately accepted his most kind offer.

The following morning was gloriously sunny and ideal for a sea ferry journey. We had decided to hire a car on Moorea, but almost forgot the all-important drivers licence and passport. So, after breakfast, and a quick breathless scurry for me, back to our apartment to grab the documents, we finally got on our way to the ferry port.

I have to say, considering all holidays to faraway places, which I have so far been so lucky to have experienced during my lifetime, the one memory which always looms largest for me, has to be that splendid ferry journey, from Tahiti Nui to Moorea.

The sights, the sounds, the colours, the people, the atmosphere were utterly magical. We positioned ourselves on the open upper deck of the ferry so that from a photographic point of view, we would have a complete 360 degree vista. Looking forward on the vessel, we could make out the distant peaks of Moorea as a silhouette of blueish sun shimmering haze. Looking aft we could see the gigantic white and broadening wake of our presence on the surface of that delightfully blue ocean. It was as if some giant finger, applying white paint, had been drawn across a blue oil canvas. The pleasantly warm ocean breeze wrapped itself around us. It tossed our hair and tried, but failed, to mute the volume of our animated and excited conversation. There were so many nationalities on that ferry journey. I tried to sustain a conversation with a Chilean gentleman, who battled to try and be understood through English. His high pitched, heavily accented tones and limited English reduced me, to nods of approval and polite smiles. I have little doubt however, that at a visceral level, we fully understood each other. The magnificent surroundings which nature had placed us into, in that moment, provided all the translation, which could ever have been necessary.

And so, Moorea loomed larger and larger, and finally we docked. We took a taxi to the car hire office, where good auld Murphy’s Law, promptly kicked in. Just at that critical point, where drivers licence and passport had to be presented, I realised that it was my friend’s driving licence and passport which hurriedly, back at our apartment, I had grabbed. So, although we had agreed that I would do the driving on Moorea, she now had to step in and literally, save the day. She did indeed save the day, and did so excellently. We now had our car, our driver, our personal tour guide and a stunning island to explore; what more could we want?

“Moorea is an island of volcanic origin, located 11 miles northwest of Tahiti and has a circumference of 37 miles. Many people have described Moorea as the most beautiful place on earth. After a visit to Moorea and inspired by its beauty, author James Michener wrote the fictional book Bali Hai, a book depicting paradise. In his book he writes, “peaks which can never be forgotten … the jagged saw-edges that look like the spines of a forgotten dinosaur”. One of the features so striking about this island is the jagged peaks and spires that give the island its unique profile. Moorea’s appearance is the result of volcanic activity hundreds of thousands of years ago.”

Credit: www.summitpost.org

What better vantage point to survey the vista of Moorea from, than Belvedere Point, a viewing platform set atop of what unquestioningly is a mountain in its own right. The moment we turned on to the sharply elevating semi dirt track, which directions indicated was the access rout to the viewing platform, our trusty driver became nervous. I couldn’t blame her, as the ascent was very sharp.

In places the track was somewhat ill defined, and there were no safety barriers to prevent vehicles from sliding off the track. Another concern was the relative narrowness, of the track. Two vehicles could not pass each other, in opposite directions, without the most extreme caution. I’m sure that our treasured Japanese tour guide Kazuo, in the back seat, was whispering Shinto prayers to himself, as our wheels crunched at the gravely way, for grip. Anyway, proudly and skilfully our driver got us safely, almost to the top, before succumbing, to the inevitable nervous exhaustion of such focused concentration. I took over driving for the last few hundred yards, and we ultimately emerged into the viewing point car park.

Oh my god, what a view. The tribulation of ascent had been so worth it. We could see for miles over the tree tops and the lush green mountain foliage, out towards the coastal area which had once formed the live back drop, for that famous 1958 movie musical: South Pacific. The movie South Pacific starred: Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr, Juanita Hall, France Nuyen and Ray Watson and was based upon the book Tales of the South Pacific by James.A.Michener. The awe inspiring natural beauty of what we beheld, during our all too brief sojourn atop Belvedere Viewing Point, truly cannot adequately be conveyed, by mere words. One needs to see it, to fully appreciate it. I must confess to breathing a tiny sigh of relief though, when we finally emerged from the Belvedere Point access track, back on to level ground. I’m sure both our driver and tour guide friend did likewise.

Now that we had our stomachs back, we were reminded that they needed filling. Needless to say, Kazuo knew exactly in which direction to point us. During past visits he had befriended the manager of the Sheraton Hotel, and was keen for us to meet her. Sheraton Hotels can be impressive, but what awaited us on Moorea, was truly something special.

We arrived, parked up, and with Kazuo leading the charge, we followed in his enthusiastic slipstream, into the luxurious reception area of the Sheraton. I could see this woman walking in our direction, and noticed from the smile lighting up her face, that she had recognised Kazuo. She greeted Kazuo, as one would a long lost family member, and we also were greeted most warmly. After brief small talk, Kazuo indicated that he intended showing us the hotel beach restaurant. The manager pointed in the direction we should follow, and off we went. Well, if Belvedere Point had been a visual feast, what unfolded in front of us as the beach restaurant, was every bit as stunning. The scene was one of typically sumptuous turquoise water, and reed huts, adjacent to a long beach of golden sand. In every imaginable sense, it was truly postcard. We selected a nice shaded table, and settled in to enjoy a lovely lunch, and a leisurely chat about our impressions so far, of Moorea.

One of the things which Tahiti is famous for, has to be its black pearls. Kazuo knew of a local Jeweller, a French lady who specialised in creating pieces of jewellery incorporating black pearls. After lunch he offered to direct us, to her nearby store. We spent some time browsing the beautiful pieces of hand crafted work, which this lady had produced, before having to make haste back to the ferry port, for the eleven mile journey back, to Tahiti Nui. Conveniently, we were allowed to return the hire car, to park up point, at the ferry port. Our return ferry journey was as enjoyable, as the outward journey had been.

The following day, back on Tahiti Nui, saw the three of us enjoy a mountain climb Safari Tour. We travelled in a small convoy of open topped, off road vehicles. Thank goodness someone else was doing the driving, because we twisted and twined and rocked and lurched, as our vehicles clawed their way up the sharpish gradient, of the mountain side.

Aromas, from the sunshine bathed exotic plants and lush foliage as we passed them on our ascent, was something for the senses to deal with. At points along the journey our driver would stop a while, to point out various plants, and explain a bit about them. We arrived into this area of trees bearing miniature bananas. I kid you not; bananas no longer than ones finger. No surprise then, when our driver revealed the name of the banana species: Lady Fingers.

About half way into our ascent, we emerged into a clearing which had a large pool. Our driver announced a take five break and if anyone wished to swim in the pool, that it was quite safe, to do so. There were those who took him at his word, and indeed my friend enjoyed a short paddle. However, Kazuo and I preferred to sit a while in the shade, and take a few photos. Anyway, all back on board again, and we were literally rocking and rolling, as we continued our accent.

My alleged brain, by now as firmly rooted to the seat as possible, was getting a tad black and blue, from the repeated motion shocks. Anyway, we eventually arrived at our tours majestically elevated termination point. It was a monastery, nestling into the mountain side, and the location at which, we were to enjoy lunch.

My goodness, with mere words, I could not justice do the vista which presented itself to us from the dining area. From our supreme vantage point, we were looking out over a lush and predominantly green mountain valley, whose slopes were interspersed with the modifying colours of huge exotic flowers, and shrubs. As we enjoyed lunch, we were fascinated by the passage of sun and cloud in combination as it introduced the most amazing blend of shade and light, across the valley. It was breath-taking; truly breath-taking. A safari of a lifetime, one might justly claim.

During our final days on Tahiti Nui, we visited an area in which the most colourful, traditional totem pole like religious objects, are preserved. They are a link with those native Polynesian peoples, of aeons past, who once, with gentle presence, graced that beautiful island paradise.

We visited the home and art gallery of that famous painter Paul Gauguin. Gauguin was of the school: Post-impressionism, Primitivism. He was born in Paris on 7th June 1848 and died on Atuona, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia on 8th May 1903.  We could not imagine more beautiful surroundings than Polynesia, as inspiration for any artist.

We also became aware of the movie actor Marlon Brando’s link with Tahiti. In the 1960s, while filming the famous: Mutiny on the Bounty, Brando first saw Tetiaroa an island 30 miles north of Tahiti Nui. It was, and is, a place out of time, with its vivid turquoise water, untouched beaches, lush vegetation and teeming life, both above and below the water. Brando was to marry Tahitian Tarita Teripaia and to live out his later life on that island, in that most magnificent part of the world. Brando felt that Tahitians had something to teach the world, about how to lead a happy and balanced life. Having been to lovely Tahiti Nui, and met its people, it came as no surprise to us, that Marlon Brando would have reached such a conclusion.

As is said so many times, all things, good and bad have an ending. Such, sadly was the case, with the ending of our magnificent holiday, to the Polynesian Paradise Island of Tahiti. However, apart from the fabulous memories, and the photographs which we took away with us, from that amazing holiday, we also took away a treasured new found friendship i.e. Kazuo. This amazing man, this consummate world traveller, who I guess was 78 when we first encountered him, became a lasting friend and subsequent guest of ours, on a number of occasions, back in Ireland. It was a great privilege and pleasure to have known him, sadly for only a few short years. Unknown to us at the time, during 2013, Kazuo passed away, at home in Japan. May you rest in peace, Kazuo dear friend.

Without any doubt, our holidays both to Astoria, and in Tahiti, were amazing; the latter, being truly the holiday of a lifetime. These magnificent experiences for me, would never have come about, but for the alertness, competitions skill, and wonderfully innate generosity, of the dear friend, with whom I shared those amazing experiences.

For those who may have happened upon this, as an isolated story, there is in fact a prelude. Here is the link:

Prelude to: A Celtic odyssey to French Polynesia

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Contact me on Twitter: @DisparatePost

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