We rested and prepared the exploration of Tahiti and Moorea by the pool of Carole and her two friends, both Caroline, with whom the hostess shared the Puna'auia villa.
They, in turn, experience hula Polynesian traditional, the vegetable skirts that, over time, evolved and gave way to popular races.
They were essential garments for his participation in the heive, the festival and local dance competition, in which they would enter as meters (French from the metropolis) and thus seek to integrate into Tahitian society. The friends had just returned from a vacation in the Hawaii.
They often complained that Caro was always late. With the best of intentions, from there they brought him a gift, a mirror that said "I am not retarded”. They bought him the souvenir based on the French meaning of “delayed".
Upon receiving the gift, Carole – much more gifted in the English language – immediately noticed that something was not quite right there. He asked them what they thought was written there. When he explained what to them, the three of them gave themselves up to long laughs.
At that time, the friends still shared an appointment. They leave in a hurry. We, found that the sunset caught us off guard.
We head for a beach near the tip of Nu'uroa, on the edge of the lagoon delimited by the barrier reef that protected most of the island.
The Peculiar Silhouette of Moorea
We bathe. We talked immersed in that sea warmed by tropicality. We enjoyed the island off the coast.
We have reconstructed in our minds the map of the Barlavento group of the Sociedade archipelago. We concluded that, in conscience at least, we were beholding Moorea for the first time.
Carole reappears walking her black Labrador. Like the dog, the sun plummets over the horizon.
The sudden afterglow transforms the lush green of Tahiti's sister island into a dark and whimsical outline shrouded in gold, the celestial and the marine its reflection.
Away from a good swim, twenty minutes away by boat, Moorea seemed more intriguing than ever. Days later, instead of disembarking from the ferry, we ended up landing there, arriving from Huahine, an island farther away from the group.
The short flight revealed aerial views of three of the island's many characteristic island mushrooms. French Polynesia, the one from Huahine from which we took off, the one from Moorea and also from Tahiti, the older sister, the main island of the Society's archipelago.
In all three cases, spiky and lush mountains rose from incredible lagoons with shades of blue that changed from cyan to almost oil depending on the depth of the sandy seabed. They delimited these lagoons, atolls that combined land borders with sections of reef.
As the observation from the west coast of Tahiti had allowed us to suspect, the mountain massif at the heart of Moorea might even be smaller and less elevated.
It turned out, however, to be a splendid work of geological art. Chopped and sharpened to the limits of imagination by volcanic activity and millenary erosion, in particular, from tropical rains that keep the mountains covered in lush forest.
Vanessa, the Metropolitan Lady of Moorea
The plane lands at the northeast point, along an exceptional area of slab that gave rise to the construction of the island's unique runway.
We are welcomed by Vanessa Boulais, another young French woman committed to an alternative life, much sunnier, freer and better paid. French Polynesia. Vanessa had bought a Twingo just three weeks ago. It's where we go to his little house with a garden.
Vanessa was a nurse in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and all that overseas island territory. He only worked the night shifts, so that he could take the Aremiti 5, the ferry that connected Moorea to the capital, to and from the capital. The new host installs us.
Makes a point of taking us to a rent the scooter. From there, she goes about her business. We, inaugurated the longed-for mode of exploration.
The Motorized Discovery of Moorea
There is not, in Moorea, a Papeete or even an urban center that resembles it. Instead, its sixteen thousand inhabitants are scattered across small towns, villages and hamlets, with an administrative center, wherever it may be, in Afareaitu and Vaiare, common in the middle of the east coast.
We follow the circular road that runs along the jagged coastline. From it leave others, steep, which lead to high points on the slope. One of these ways is more internal than the related ones.
It is through it that we cross the deep valleys of Opunohu and Paopao, massacre the weak motor of the scooter and continue up the mountain until we pass the picturesque Colégio Agrícola and reach the Belvedere viewpoint, the highest point on the island accessible by vehicle.
In its verdant heights, we delight in the pseudo-pyramidal majesty of Mount Rotui (899m), with its many sharp edges. This mound holds the deep bays of Opunohu and Cook apart, without appeal.
Backwards and inland rises Moorea's supreme mountain, Mount Tohivea (1207m), once part of the southern rim of the island's prehistoric crater.
A tropical stronghold with a lot of rural
Moorea is sort of divided into three distinct worlds. Afareaitu and Vaiare, more urban without being real cities, form one of them.
The similar hamlets and villages that we pass as we go around the island are another. In them roam chickens, pigs and other domestic animals that the natives give to the surrounding nature.
These villages are formed by groups of more or less traditional houses, from fares with roofs made of reeds or palm fibers and other derivatives, all in wood or with less organic materials.
Regardless of the residences, the adjoining lands are landscaped and flowered with such determination that we are suspicious of contagion from an excessive French-speaking colonial perfectionism.
The island's population is small. Only from time to time do we come across one or another native, usually too devoted to their tasks or indifferent to greet the sterns (foreigners) in passing.
In fact, in few places in the world we feel as much difficulty as in the Society Islands to get to know natives and live with them. It would have been the same or worse in the comparable Cook Islands.
Despite a few exceptions, the relationship between the Society Islands Polynesians and their historic settlers continues to prove bipolar. Vanessa is quick to describe to us what she lives: “outside, the Polynesians are the friendliest they can get towards the meters.
Natives and Meters: an Unresolved Conviviality
In the workplace, things change. They maintain the education necessary for the functions, but during break times, for example, they rarely join outsiders. We, we think they don't like us who come from the French metropolis because they consider that we took their jobs.
Which may be true, but it shouldn't be seen just like that. It is France that injects money into French Polynesia where few people pay relevant taxes.
The idea it gives us is that work is displeasing to Polynesians. Women, in large numbers, stay at home. The men work, but not all, neither close nor far away, and when they work, they don't always do it willingly.”
What is certain is that the natives do not seem to be sufficiently dissatisfied with the sacrifice of their independence and cultural integrity. The separation movements have proved to be inexpressive. Polynesians know that the quality of life they have preserved for decades depends on France.
And this, despite the islands with less tourist expression suffer a serious lack of infrastructure, health care and other rights abundant in Tahiti, Moorea and other more relevant islands.
Vanessa tells us the case of a twenty-year-old woman who had given birth in Papeete, returned by plane to her home on the island of Maupiti and there he found himself the victim of an infection. No hospital in Maupiti or frequent flights to Tahiti, he was no longer able to return to Papeete alive.
Even so, the indigenous people tolerate their progressive submission to the Gallic administration and culture, which is evident in the proliferation of baguettes, Carrefours and the countless sailboats moored in the marinas around the island by the wealthy meters.
A Lit Colonial Dispute
And, however, if the historical course of the European discoveries had been different, today, French Polynesia it would be Spanish or English.
It is believed that the first western navigator to sight Moorea was, in 1606, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, an Eborense in the service of Spain, but the first Europeans to anchor and remain with serious intentions of exploration were Samuel Wallis and the more famous man Captain James Cook in 1769.
The local Cook Bay continues to honor the eponymous explorer. Cook, in turn, was the author of the baptism of the Society Islands. He did so on the basis of the sponsorship of his expedition granted by the Royal Society of London (for the improvement of Natural Knowledge). Also Charles Darwin would come to study both Tahiti and Moorea.
In the wake of these first approaches, there was a real race to dominate the numerous Polynesian islands, disputed between the British, Spanish and French. After successive and intricate events, the latter annexed Tahiti and decreed a French Protectorate that already included several other surrounding islands.
They disrespected a so-called Jarnac Convention, signed in 1847, to the satisfaction of the British. Thereafter, they continued to extend their hold on the Pacific. Like the rest, Moorea, one of his closest strongholds to Tahiti, was becoming French.
The Delicate Refined and Luxurious Facet of Moorea
Moorea's “third world”, also a product of this historical context, is even more complex.
Over time, seduced by the emerald-turquoise sumptuousness of divine settings, the French encouraged the French Polynesia to become the most exquisite island playground in the South Pacific. Moorea was no exception.
Despite the wide coastline of the island, as we go around it, we find that the real beaches, with vast sands, are uncommon, with the exception of those at Hauru Point and Temae – the rare public ones – the last one in the vicinity of the airport.
This gap has not stopped dozens of luxury resorts from taking over the seafront with direct and luxurious access to the turquoise lagoon inside the barrier reef.
On the one hand, the resorts deprive locals and non-guest visitors of an easy and healthy coexistence with the incredible seafront.
On the other hand, even if companies from the metropolis and other parts of the world keep the profits, hotels made of semi-floating semi-detached cabins employ a good part of the natives. They form a stronghold advertised in the rest of the world as “keys to paradise” perfect for honeymoons and romantic getaways.
As might be expected, this is how the rest of the world views the mythical Bora Bora and, by extension, Moorea. Too many outsiders visit these islands for mere days and come into contact with little more than the resort and surrounding lagoon. Like any other of the Society Islands, Moorea is a creation of Nature too far away and prodigious to miss.
More information about French Polynesia on the website of Tahiti Tourism