We’re going to French Polynesia. It’s a French protectorate comprised of 118 islands that stretch 1,200 miles across the South Pacific Ocean (and if you add up the land area of all the islands, it is roughly equivalent to that of Rhode Island). These 118 islands are divided into five island groups and they are very distinct.
The first group we’ll stop at are the Marquesas. They are lush and with dramatic relief. I don’t think a lot of traditional commerce happens there. After the Marquesas, we’ll travel through the Tuamotos. Many people have told us this is their favorite group. Islands are a misnomer for this group; they’re sandy, palm-fringed atolls with few people living on them. On Google Earth they look like a patch of ringworm on a child’s leg, most of the rings with a gap just wide enough for Del Viento to pass through and into the big shallow swimming pools they form in the middle of nowhere. The third group we’ll visit are the Society Islands. These islands are lush like the Marquesas, but lower-lying and fringed by coral reefs. Tahiti and Bora Bora are in the Societies, so I suspect there are lots of tourists in this group.
The French are allowing the Robertsons only three months in French Polynesia and we’re not going to be able to explore it all. The Austral and Gambier island groups are off the beaten track and we’ll not visit them (this year).
French Polynesia will be pretty, no doubt. Everyone agrees on this. But what often matters about an inhabited place isn’t the beauty, but the people who call it home. We’ve seen ample beauty in Baja, but five years from now, my positive impressions about this peninsula will come from the mayor who included us in Puerto Magdalena’s New Years’ Eve celebration, from Geronimo and his daughters on one side of Agua Verde and Tio and his dog on the other, from Ana and the rest of the SHLP volunteers in La Paz, from Gerardo and Rodrigo camping with their kayaks on Isla Angel de La Guarda, from Isabela and her friendly staff at the Fonatur marina in Santa Rosalia, and from hundreds of kind strangers all over whose names I’ve forgotten.
Heading to French Polynesia for the first time, I’ve read and heard enough disparate impressions from the people who’ve traveled there before us to be eager to reconcile them with my own.
My folks were there on a small cruise ship a few years ago and they were thrilled with their visit and can’t wait to learn about ours. I’ve read dozens of cruising blogs from people who eagerly share their own happy experiences in French Polynesia. My friend Kim on Puna gave me photos to share with the people she met in the Marquesas forty years ago, people she still remembers fondly.
Then there are my Bum friends who are famously dispassionate about these islands (even going so far as to say that everyone else feels the same way but are reticent to admit they are anything less than blown away after sailing thousands of miles to be there). In his book, South to Alaska, my friend Mike Litzow writes that after you’ve been a few weeks in this, “tropical paradise that Westerners have been idealizing ever since the days of Captain Cook,” you begin thinking that the, “lush green silhouettes of the islands are mostly comprised of marijuana plants.” He describes one encounter with people who seem to me jaded by visitors and bored by life. That said, Mike and his family have also enjoyed enriching encounters with Pacific Islanders; I hope we have our own.
My vegetarian diet is a concern. How awkward and insulting will I seem if we do something nice for someone and then find ourselves at a pig roast in our honor? None for me, thanks. I’m still full from that pamplemouse I had this morning. Oh, you caught that fish today? Yes it looks very fresh. A gift for us? No, I don’t eat fish either.
No matter what impression we get from French Polynesia, we are awfully lucky to be going there to form impressions. The beauty of the place will not disappoint and to share that with my girls, to see them brave a swim with a reef shark or delight at the sight of a waterfall at the end of a long hike, that will be enough—everything else will be bonus. Our tentative departure date is April 9.
In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we lived the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Click here to read more from the Log of Del Viento.