Thursday, April 9, 2009

Winding Down...Tahiti, Moorea, Hawaii... and Home

All good things...

Well, our sailing sabbatical is finally coming to a end... After spending 6 months sailing "Hurulu" down the California and Mexican coasts, and then after crossing the Pacific as crew on the boat "Apple," we disembarked in Hiva Oa in the Marquesas...our final port of call reached by sailboat.


The Marquesas are very cool-- a fellow sailor described it as "similar to Kauai 70 years ago" which is probably accurate. The islands are virtually untouched and undeveloped, and are little visited except by sailboat or the occasional dedicated tourist looking to get off the beaten path. Part of their appeal is that the Marquesas are the island group farthest from any continent in the world, lying between 550 and 725 miles south of the equator and 852 miles northeast of Tahiti.

The other part of the appeal is that they are beautiful yet empty...these islands, which are lush, dramatic and green, have rich histories and were first settled by Polynesians around 100 BC. However, at present only about 8 thousand people in total live on all 14 of the islands, down from an estimated 100,000 in the 16th century (smallpox was widespread).

Anyway, our stay there was brief; after a couple days in the town of Atuona, where we visited the Gauguin museum and had some nice hikes, we hopped a little puddle jumper airplane to Tahiti. (To orient our readers, "French Polynesia" includes several island chains, including the Society Islands such as Tahiti and Moorea, as well as the Marquesas, Tuamotus, and Austral Islands; Tahiti is the capital of them all).

Tahiti and Moorea

Our original plan was to hang out in Tahiti and island hop by ferry for four or five weeks until our friends on La Palapa showed up, but we had to curtail these ambitions as soon as we landed; we were in for quite a shock-- Tahiti and all of French Polynesia is unbelievably expensive. Really-- it is shocking what things cost over there.
Nonetheless, we made the most of it, and took a ferry over to the island of Moorea. This is a beautiful volcanic island, ringed by a protective reef and the accompanying crystal clear turquoise lagoon.

Here, we stayed at a beachfront place called "Camping Chez Nelson". We secured a tiny, bare bones hut, cooked many of our own meals in the communcal kitchen, and spent our days snorkeling, reading, and touring the island by scooter. There really isn't a whole lot more to do here...the tourist infrastructure has, by design, been kept pretty low key, and I'm sure the high cost has impeded massive tourism development as well.

Speaking of the expense, it definitely impacted the experience a bit...we felt rather trapped since every taxi ride, activity, or meal out cost us an arm and a leg. The only "bargain" on the island-- which was found at nearly every restaurant-- was a burger and fries combo plate for about $9, apart from which the meals started around $25 on up (even for very basic lunches and dinners). After several days of burgers, we started to feel rather unhealthy-- similar to the lead guy in the movie "Super Size Me" (who eats nothing but McDonalds every day and chronicles how his body changes over time).

Anyway, the islands really are incredibly beautiful-- "postcard perfect"-- and the islanders are among the most friendly I've encountered; they seem very happy with their lives, and very relaxed and content...we spent some time at the public beach, and the most popular activity is for 4-5 Polynesians to sit under the shade of a palm and sing along to a guitar/ukulele combo. Their lively songs-- mostly in Tahitian but with some pidgin English and French songs included too-- makes for great background music while beachcombing.

After a week in Moorea, we decided it was time for a change, and took the ferry back to Tahiti. Here, we spent nearly an entire day calling around looking for a place to stay. Here is how it went, time after time:

Naomi: "Hello do you have a room for two people for tonight?"
Pension owner: "@#$%*((%)$(#*" (i.e., some string of incomprehensible French)
Naomi: "Ok, one moment; Let me pass you to my husband"
Nathan (speaking in English but with a very thick and dramatic French accent): "Ehh....Bonjour! Do jew have...ehh, un rhoom...fawr two...pee-puhl?"
Pension owner: "Jess, we do! Jour name, si vouz plais?"

Inevitably I just about cracked up laughing with each call, but I kid you not-- speaking English with a very bad, very overdone French accent actually worked! The people on the other end could, for the most part, understand me quite well (although somehow I doubt this would work in France).

In Tahiti we bought Naomi some amazingly beautiful green pearls that match her green eyes at the Tahiti Pearl Market, and we ate dinner at the "roulottes", which is a collection of mobile food vans that all congregate down near the waterfront. Still not cheap-- I think we were averaging about $15 per plate-- but nice, fresh and tasty food, like seafood and steaks. We also spent half a day running around trying to find space on a cargo ship heading out to Bora Bora or Huahine, to no avail.


Finally, after 2 weeks, we were "Tahiti-ed out" and caught a midnight flight to Oahu, Hawaii. We arrived at dawn and took a bus to our downtown hotel. Immediately we were hit with reverse culture shock...passing sign after sign advertising "2 eggs, 2 bacon, 2 sausage and french toast for $4.99" was exciting and disorienting. It may be hard to believe, but after the limited selection and absurd prices in French Polynesia, seeing the selection of food products available was a a dreamy beautiful thing.

Indeed-- we spent the first two days just EATING our way through Waikiki...e.g., I started the day with the breakfast special referenced above, then had teriyaki stir fry for lunch, then an acai/fruit bowl for afternoon snack, then sushi for dinner, etc. This is contrary to my many ways I'm turned off by the rampant consumption and consumerism in the U.S., but when you've been away from it for awhile and living off stale pasta, a U.S. supermarket, 7-11, or food court is an amazing sight.

Hawaii was a great middle-step 'decompression zone'...still island-y and tropical, but American enough that we started to get used to hearing English again, etc. Naomi's good friend Elbert had some free time and served as our unofficial (but very gracious) tour guide. We spent a day up on the North Shore at Waimea Bay swimming and exploring, then went to Duke's at sunset for cocktails. We also did some nice hiking to Manoa Falls and took some good swims with Elbert, who is training for a triathlon.

And In Conclusion...

And they that! Our sailing adventure is coming to a close. After a brief stay with our respective families, Naomi will return to SF to move us back into our apartment, and I will return to Puerto Vallarta to arrange delivery of our boat back to San Francisco. We will pick up our dog, we'll pick up our car, we'll re-start delivery of Netflix and the Wall Street Journal, and we'll basically pick up our lives where we left them six months ago, for the most part.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Would we do it again? Absolutely.

Sure, it's going to be hard to get back to the grind... to go back to being productive members of society in the current economy. But we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

It's not often in life that we actually get to follow a dream and make it reality... so it feels very gratifying to have done so. And, for many years prior to this trip, I spent countless hours sitting in the comfort of the armchair, glass of vino at hand, reading about sailing to these places, it made it all the more special when we actually did sail to them... entered the palm-fringed bay, dropped the hook, and cracked open a cold cerveza... occasionally with a fresh-caught fish ready to grill.

Sailing off into the horizon is never quite what you imagine, of course-- different, harder, grittier, saltier-- but almost always ultimately better.

Thanks for reading our blog and following our adventures!

-- Nathan and Naomi


Dee Dee said...

Happy to have you guys back stateside, but I miss the trip already. Hope all goes well with the reintroduction of this US life! I'll forever admire your decision to take this trip - you guys are inspiration!

Andrea said...

I'm sad it's over, as I was living vicariously through you. Absolutely amazing! See you in June!

mrsbonvivant said...

This was a great read, great photos and very encouraging in my arm chair with vino at hand...dreaming.

Cheryl Reif said...

I have a question for you--how did you transport your boat back from Hawaii to mainland U.S.? Thanks! ~Cheryl

Nathan Beckord, CFA said...

Cheryl-- no, we crewed on another boat across the pacific...actually, the difficulty in getting boats back is the reason we didn't take ours.

Unknown said...

Aloha from Tahiti Pearl Market-Hawaii,

I really enjoyed reading your blog about the vacation trip. Especially the part about the french/english lost in translation part. Im happy that our pearls have made a memory on this trip.

Rainui F.

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