Tuesday, October 25, 2005

'Ia orana!

We're back, baby! We rolled into town late Sunday afternoon and have pretty much been loafing around ever since. Back to work for me tomorrow. The trip was amazing. It made me want to move to French Polynesia. Though on the plus side it's nice to be back in a place where I don't need to slather on sunscreen everyday; my skin was nearing open revolt.

Dogs. Bora Bora alone has a human population of 12,000 and a (mostly feral) dog population of 6,000. That's a whole lot of dogs, and as some of you may I know I am moderately phobic when it comes to canines. There are also about 2,500 feral chickens. The set-up made for some interesting running around the one road that encircles Bora Bora. Although I have to admit that what I'd read online before the trip is true: half the dogs are pregnant at any given time, and the other half are male. This is a pretty exhausted population. Still, there are a lot of them, and their numbers are only growing. Otherwise the running was fantastic. I only saw a few other runners while I was there, but encountered lots of friendly people and beautiful views. Friendly people and beautiful views seem to be everywhere in French Polynesia, though.

Other animals. You can't go to French Polynesia without taking real pleasure in the marine life. When we stayed on Bora Bora, which we did for the first several days of our trip, we had an overwater bungalow from which we could jump right off our lanai into the surreally blue waters of the lagoon. Fish everywhere. At various points during the trip we snorkeled with and fed reef sharks and stingrays -- it turns out that stingrays get pretty snuggly and friendly when they think you might have some fish for them. I have some great pictures of Chris being molested by swarms of them. It wasn't the stingrays or sharks that got him, though; it was a tiny little triggerfish that nipped his ankle while he was taking off his snorkel gear in some shallow water at a Taha'a motu. (A motu is one of the small islands around a bigger main island, based on coral and blocking the lagoon from the ocean outside it.) One of my personal highlights was snorkeling in the same water as humpback whales, which often make extended trips inside the lagoon in Moorea. The water was a bit too murky to see anything underwater clearly, since our boat at the time was outside the lagoon and in the ocean proper, but I was only a few meters away from a mother and calf humpback, and it was really damn cool.

Language. Anyone who's known me for any time at all knows that I worked on Tahitian and Tahitian French at some length in my dissertation, which fact had something to do with the location selection for this trip. I was happy that it only took a conversation or two for the rust to come off my French, and I was surprised to hear and see how much Tahitian is used in daily life there, as the French census reports I've encountered have led me to believe otherwise. Tellingly, however, the children we encountered were mostly French-dominant, primarily speaking French to each other rather than Tahitian. I saw several signs with code-switching, things like "fare a ventre" (house (Tah.) for sale (Fr.)) and heard lots of instances of code-switching out and about the islands. The linguistic experience made me a little regretful that I didn't stay in academia and go there to do more fieldwork.

Places. We stayed at the Hotel Bora Bora for several days initially, the first hotel in Bora Bora and recently named the best hotel in the world according to several travel agent surveys. It is deserving of the title. Afterwards we went on the Paul Gauguin cruise, which visited Tahiti, Raiatea, Taha'a, Bora Bora, and Moorea. We've never been on a cruise before and I'm pretty sure we won't go on another one, but I'm glad we did this, as it was a good way to familiarize ourselves with several islands so that we'll know where we want to return in the future. (Bora Bora and Moorea are the standout winners.) We were hoping for a younger, less American demographic and we didn't find that on the cruise. However, we did enjoy the excursions in port quite a bit. In addition to the aforementioned and other snorkeling trips, we also did a 4x4 offroad thing in Bora Bora, kayaked off the shores of Raiatea, and rode a waverunner around Bora Bora, stopping at a little island for the leader to scale a palm tree and get everyone some coconuts and tell us about all the ways the different parts of young and old coconuts are used. In Moorea we rented a crazy skeletal-looking tiny vehicle and drove up to the Belvedere viewpoint and around the rest of the island.

Food. If you have the occasion to travel to Bora Bora, don't leave without visiting Villa Mahana for dinner. It's among the best meals I've ever had. The beef tenderloin with vanilla sauce and gnocchi in cream sauce on the side was a revelation. Everywhere we went we had good food, just about. We're already scheming about getting some good sashimi-grade tuna here and recreating poisson cru, a very sashimi-leaning ceviche with lime juice and coconut milk and a few fruits or vegetables. It's everywhere in French Polynesia, and it's really tasty. The pineapple we ate is unlike any I've had anywhere else -- it was smaller, sweeter, and with an edible core. I already miss it. Chris was practically in rapture over the little bananas, which I think are a different species of banana than the kind we typically get here.

World Series. We had the good fortune of being in Bora Bora during the Hawaiki Nui Va'a, a 6 person team outrigger canoe race with several legs in French Polynesia totaling well over 100km. That's some serious rowing! The race finishes up on Matira Beach, which happens to be where we were staying in Bora Bora, and it's pretty much the local Super Bowl, World Series, and Olympics all rolled into one. A couple of weeks later our flight home happened to be leaving at the same time as the flight that some of the athletes were taking, and the airport was a madhouse. It was awesome. I think all of Papeete was there, singing and crying and laughing and dancing and taking pictures. The rowers were loving every minute of it, hamming it up for the cameras and kissing any girl within striking distance. The rowers all had shell necklaces, given in Tahiti to travelers to tell them to come again. I felt pretty lame with my one tourist shell necklace given to me by my hotel in front of these guys with dozens, hundreds of them. It was loud and chaotic and crazy. I think it may have been the best part of the trip.

I'm sure there's some stuff I'm leaving out. It was a great couple of weeks. I can't wait to go back.


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