French Polynesia is truly a special world or as the people say a world for itself that lives beyond everything we know. On the way out, every one of us had the opportunity to take with us a piece of her beauty and leave a part of ourselves on her beautiful islands. As Nuku Hiva slowly disappeared from the horizon, unlike the perpetual and aimless sailors, in the front of us on the navigation chart, the straight line stretched out leading us to Fakarava, one of the atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Moderate waves, light wind, satisfactory speed and elegant connection of the ship with the sea, is the description of our four-day sailing to meet Tuamotus that offered us a new face and replaced the green volcanic islands of Marquesana with coral atolls of turquoise-blue colour.
According to ancient Polynesian myth, the Tuamotu Islands or “Sea Islands” were not created by the magic of Albus Dumbledore but by the influence of the God of the Sea who one day started a storm that forced parts of the earth to float out to surface. Atolls were formed on these pieces of land, made up of coral reefs around a small lagoon, making the Tuamotu Archipelago the largest group of coral islands in the world. Due to the dangers of sailing, which we were exposed to oncoming shoals and narrow passages, sailing Tuamotus, the so-called “dangerous archipelago”, for Peter and my self as well as for most sailors, were a real challenge and a fantastic experience.
Fakarava is one of the largest and most beautiful atolls in French Polynesia and if I play with words a little, I would describe it as a real fantasy of the South Pacific. We approached this idyllic dashed coral necklace with great interest, not taking our eyes off the bushes full of the green curls that peeked out over the water. The small cute islets that form a ring around the lagoon, we barely noticed. We crept into the atoll through the Passage Garuae, located on the north side of Fakarava, while the Tumakohua Pass, much more complicated, including a narrow underwater valley called “Shark’s Hole”, is located on the south side of the ridge.
So, at the very entrance, we were greeted by a large whirlpool, which my husband drew my attention to as I slowly collected the sails. Wow, I felt like a crew member of Captain Piplfox who had just discovered where the seven-headed monster was hiding. So far we have not had the opportunity to experience something so impressive and a little scary. With adrenaline at 220V, a 3D scene and a vivid imagination, I thought that, like a gramophone record, we could easily turn inthat vortex or to dance off an underwater waltz at King Triton’s court. Everything indicated that we did not have room to manoeuvre, considering the coral reef plantation that stretched around and below us, as well as the time to ask questions, because the next moment we were in its immediate vicinity. Believing in Meermowe and the correctness of what we do, we accelerated the engine so with great anticipation and wide open eyes crossed the vortex. “Well done, Captain Piplfox,” I said to my husband with a big smile.
Our final destination was the main village of the Tuamotu Archipelago, which we approached slowly and cautiously, adhering to the strict red security line on the I-Sailor that led us through the extreme shallows of the lagoon. We anchored at a depth of six meters near a small dock for supply ships and dinghy harbour. As soon as we dropped the anchor, we got the first visitors who came to us rowing on a paddle-boards then welcomed us with wide arms and a kind smile. It was a nice married couple who, like Gauguin, decided to leave Paris and come to live with two small daughters right here, in such a distant and lonely place. The free internet service is just one of the services they offered us in their home, and to the question: “What can be seen on Fakarava”, I received, as if fired from a cannon, a quick and spontaneous answer: “Nothing”. This, apparently short and empty word without taste and smell, automatically changed the flow of our thoughts and energy, and became a trigger for our curiosity and imminent going on shore. So let’s not waste time, let’s step together in this mission and “now or never” prove that “nothing” is “something”.
Fakarava is another paradise island. For Peter and my self one of Meermowe’s Great Adventure’s favourite destinations.It has a rough rectangular shape and a narrow mainland, which makes it an extremely interesting place where you can watch time pass, and listen to the sound of wind, waves and birds that reach from both sides of the coast at the same time. Unlike some atolls covered exclusively with coconut trees and endless white sandy beaches, here on the inner shore of the bay, a former volcano, the peaceful and picturesque town of Rotoava has developed.
At the pier, we were greeted by a three-member “rock band” who presented their latest album with a thunderous bark. We soon realised that our only way to tour the place was on foot, so like “the shoesy people”, we set off on the main road through the village. Nice houses, flower estates, a church built of coral and shells, the local town hall and the school as we passed by, helped us a lot to understand the meaning and simplicity of everyday life of the inhabitants of Fakarava. An incredible array of blue lagoons and white sand are something quite normal and common that can be found here, while the eaves covered with reeds provided a real Polynesian atmosphere. And so, in that relaxing atmosphere, we arrived at the home of our host friends where we booked bikes and spent the afternoon in pleasant company.
The next morning dawned in a phenomenal mood and preparation for new research. We were excited as if we were participating in the “Tour de France” bike race. With hats on our heads, some sandwiches, and a bottle of water in our backpack, we jumped into the dinghy and headed for shore. We left Rotoava in a southerly direction while our sympathetic “rockers” were still asleep. The sun was slowly rising on the horizon, and the weather promised a hot day and good fun. In front of us stretched a flat asphalt road which was later replaced by a dirt road leading to remote places of the atoll. There is almost no traffic on Fakaravi. By the end of the day we had met only two or three cars so we couldn’t tear off the impression that we had the road, along which were stretched unbridled coconut trees, just for ourselves. At about eight or a little more kilometres far from Rotoava, just before the asphalt finish, we decided to turn off the road. We didn’t want to risk to puncturing the tires, so we decided to get off the bikes and continue on foot. Our curiosity led us to the first bend in the shadow of which the winding path hided the quiet beauty of the bay that attracted us like a magnet. Although we were aware of the “harmless” reefs sharks, could easily fly into this episode and put the dot on “i”, it was impossible to resist the soothing sound of the ocean and the urge to get into the water. Without hesitation, we left our bikes and goods next to the only tree in the area and the next moment, we found ourselves in an embrace with a beautiful coral reef, around which a school of small rainbow-coloured fish were swimming hurriedly. We were simply captivated by the warm and clear water of the lagoon, the elegance of marine life and the field of colourful floral corals that covered the seabed. We didn’t know which way to look and swim away. It was a real adventure in the heart of Polynesian nature.
We left the bay again riding bicycles in the direction of Rotoava lively discussing the fairy tale of a fisherman and a goldfish. Rolling slowly next to each other, it was not difficult to conclude that the fish was saved by the Alexander Pushkin’s fountain pen, but the question was now, how we would behave with the shark if we had met him and what would we have offered him for a happy ending of this story? “Facebook page, sandwich and crate of beer,” was Peter’s response of the twenty-first century.
The change of weather in the afternoon brought us heavy clouds and the inevitable shower. The rain was pouring like a bucket. As my husband, being just like Jerry Mouse, tried in vain to pull himself under his tattered straw hat, drops were already passing through mine like through an old ceiling. We had nowhere to hide, and the village was still far away. Thunder and a flash of lightning not only accelerated pedalling, but raised the level of our adventurous spirit full of jokes and roaring laughter. As the saying goes, real luck on wheels. On the way back to Rotoava we stopped at our hosts, refreshed ourselves with a cold drink and continued on foot. It was still raining while the sun was shining on the other side of the village. Preoccupied with the story and looking at the road, which like a river was flowing under our feet, we didn’t even notice that we had stepped on dry even though the drizzle of the rain could still be heard. We turned and stared in confusion at the raindrops, and then, like children, stepped with one foot into the water that have made by real showers while the other was on dry. We stood like that for a moment inhaling the smell of wet, dry and warm asphalt. The house next to us was located literally in two climate zones. On one side bathed in rain while the other was illuminated by the sun. What a mix of madness, joy and pleasure with which time has simply flown by, even though we wished the day would never end. We arrived at the pier late in the afternoon when we sat in the dinghy half wet, left the pier and headed for Meermowe.
The quiet and warm night promised that we would not sleep in our bed so we welcomed the dawn in the cockpit. The beauties of South Fakarava and everything we experienced the previous day was just an added motivation for another bike ride on the other side of the Rotoava. The asphalt, and then the worn dirt road that we rolled comfortably through, led us north all the way to the top of the Garuae Passageway, through which we entered, discovering a slightly different and equally interesting character of that part of the Atoll. On that side of the ocean is a small airport and two historic lighthouses. Taputavaka, about a hundred-year-old stone structure in the shape of a Mayan pyramid, is one of the oldest lighthouses in French Polynesia and Topaka, somewhat younger, also in the shape of a pyramid about 15 meters high. Paradise beaches and beautiful sunset with a warm orange glow, simply radiated a relaxing atmosphere. Due to the very strong currents that prevail in this part of the atoll, we had to resist mother nature and give up from swimming so as not to “sail out” ahead of time. “If there is nirvana anywhere except in the Buddhist religion, then it is right here,” Peter and I agreed, returning to Rotoawa, which gave our visit to this atoll its epilogue.
We left Fakarava in the early morning hours and, for the umpteenth time, sailed across the open sea, which stretched in front of us like kilometres of railways and cheerful fields of sunflowers stretch in front of the train driver. Browsing through the impressions, we realised that this story, which you just read from the screen of your computers, has undoubtedly proved that “nothing” do not exists. And remember, looking at “something” means living again because that’s the only way you can feel the value of everything you’ve done.
Tuamotus is visibly different from the rest of French Polynesia and represents the essence of the Pacific islands. In this island group, there are also extremely fascinating, desolate, and coral-enclosed mainlands that completely envelop the ring of atolls, in whose lagoons it is impossible to enter. It is for this reason that stories circulate here about Robinson Crusoe as a novel that inspired the imagination not only of many sailors but also of ourselves.
Toau as the nearest mainland of Fakarava, is one of or even the only Atoll that has two passages and that: Pass Fakatahuna on the southeast ward categorised as real and Anse Amyot as wrong or false pass at the northern end, whose south side is blocked by a large coral reef and shallow waters so that there is no actual access to the lagoon. We decided to stop right there on Anse Amyot, a bay with a small anchorage like a dead end street with only a dozen yacht berths. When we arrived we found a sufficient number of free buoys that we tied up with a few more ARC fleet ships. The weather was beautiful while the clean and clear sea simply drew us to enjoy swimming and diving. The amazing palette of green, blue and turquoise tints of the water shone in the sun. I just wondered if I was dreaming as I watched the coral colours compete with the fish and the black stingrays moving slowly at the bottom of the sea in the echelon of five, just inches above the white sand. Without thinking about the dangers quietly lurking in such waters, I decided to accept the challenge of swimming from the boat to the sandy beach under the only possible condition, set to me by my husband, that he accompany me in the dinghy as security. A few hours later upon returning to the ship, my curiosity and bravery dropped into a minus to a state of iciness when I saw several large sharks licking their moustaches around Meermowe. “La commedia è finita”, until further notice, I was not allowed to mention the verb “swim”. We spent the evening on board with a delicious dinner that I prepared for all our friends from the fleet.
Toau Atoll is not a place for great gatherings of sailors, but there is something that makes it striking and that is the people in Anse Amyot or rather a large local family who welcomed us warmly and very friendly. During the short stays of boats in the bay, they often like to include cruisers in their daily life activities, especially fishing. The way our hosts catch fish is a real attraction. Namely, in the shallow waters inside the lagoon, traps were set up made of netting braided around bamboo sticks driven into the sandy bottom. The whole structure eventually narrows and has the shape of a large funnel. We couldn’t believe that fish could be so easily deceived and naively trapped. During the day, the trap is filled like a pomegranate so it simply seems that people can go to take their dinner every day as in a supermarket. The night before departure, our entire company was invited to a fishing dinner that our friends traditionally organise every year for the ARC crew, but this time the scenario was somewhat different. It all went in an unexpected direction when sharks stormed the scene and picked up all the catch. There is not a single tail left for us, let alone a fish. This exciting story ended with a showdown between our hosts and hungry predators, like in the movie “Gunfight at O.K. Corall”, in which sharks did not have time, nor theoretical chance to think about making a truce. Regardless of the circumstances in which we all found ourselves together, nothing could surprise our hosts, so that evening, instead of fish, our plates were decorated with beautifully prepared lobsters with very tasty side dishes. It was a fun night in very pleasant and amusing company with the natives of this part of the atoll.
Meeting families in Anse Amyot was not only a real treat but also a wonderful insight into the lives of people who live so differently from us. The next morning, one by one we had untied the ropes from the buoy and sailed with full sails on the course toward Tahiti.