Friday, December 12, 2014

Mesmerizing Maupiti (Part 2)

The longer Mark and I stayed in Maupiti, the more this little atoll in the Society Islands captured our hearts. We can’t quite point a finger at what it is that enchanted us so much, but it just did. Being there felt “right”; the vibe of the island and the people, the quiet way of life, the remoteness and lack of visitors and French cruisers, the availability of underutilized and working internet, the abundance of local tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and eggplants, the space, the peace, all of it. In my previous blog, I wrote about certain aspects of Maupiti, and in this one, I continue with that theme.

The motus

In Belgium we have the expression “Beautiful from afar, but far from beautiful!” which is often used in regards to describing a woman. It comes to mind when you look at most motus (low and flat barrier islands) in French Polynesia. From the boat or across the channel, you spot what you think are beautiful white sand beaches, framed by palm trees. Upon closer inspection, the color white resembles broken coral on which it is impossible to walk barefoot or sit, and the palm trees are growing in a thick underbrush or prickly vegetation. We were fooled by it in Maupiti, just like in many of the Tuamotus. Bora Bora seems to be the exception, but there the nice beaches on the motus “belong” to the high end resorts or are privately “claimed”, bearing “tabu” signs. Coral or no coral, these small islands look very pretty from afar. That being said, there sometimes are sandy stretches to be found and in Maupiti’s case, we particularly enjoyed hanging out for sundowners on motu Tiapaa’s northern sand spit with our friends Monique and Garth (SV Heartbeat). The other motu beaches required flip flops.

The snorkeling

On a sunny day, our friends joined us to brave the strong outgoing current near the pass and see what the underwater world had to offer. We swam on both sides of the channel and crossed it twice, finding the eastern side more interesting, because of the bigger fish population. Most of the coral was dead, but there was enough to see to keep us busy and in shape for a few hours. In the lagoon, I took some short snorkeling excursions, but unfortunately, the water was very cloudy and the visibility poor. When swimming from the boat towards shallower water, I would basically run into the sand bank before realizing I was on top of it. Once, a big fish startled me, while I scared him; neither of us had noticed that we were only two feet apart!

A few times, we set out in the dinghy to try and find the manta rays, said to frequent the lagoon, but we were never quite sure where to look and the water was too cloudy to spot them from the dinghy. On the last day of our stay, our local friend John called us and shared the location of their usual hangout. At the same time, I saw a little tourist boat hovering in that area, so we buzzed over to one of the white floats, donned our snorkel gear and jumped in. Soon, we were floating above three of these giant, gentle creatures, and enjoyed observing them in their natural habitat. It reminded us of the unique experience we had with mantas last year in Tahuata.

The people

It seems the smaller the communities, the friendlier the people. While the Marquesas still rank number 1 with a big margin, the people in Maupiti (1200) score high compared to many other Society Islands. Like in the Gambier Islands, locals greet each other and send friendly waves from cars and boats. After a week of staying near the village, our faces became recognizable and the “Ia Orana” greetings sounded more genuine. One day, I went ashore with two empty jerry cans and a small bag of garbage. A fit-looking man awaited me and suggested to take the rubbish. I preferred to toss it myself, to make sure the recyclables went in the right bin. So, he took the 6 gallon jerry cans, helped me fill them with potable water and carried them back to the dinghy for me - a very nice and welcome gesture in the heat of the day. When the produce lady found out I was looking for a frozen chicken and some juice, and had not been able to locate any, she ordered her husband to drive me around to all the different stores, until we discovered that all the chicken on the island had sold out. It would be another week before the monthly cargo ship from Tahiti would pull into Vai’ea. Then, the nice man drove me to relatives to pick up a breadfruit, so we’d have something substantial to eat, since potatoes had been unavailable for weeks, if not months. Another day, we were ready to leave motu Tiapaa by dinghy, when the long haired Polynesian man who lives on the beach called us over and gave us two green coconuts and a bunch of bananas! Yes, the people are friendly here.

One of the highlights during our stay in Maupiti, was meeting the American Johnny Coconut. In 1989 he had read an article about Maupiti (probably one of the first ones ever written about this atoll) in the sailing magazine Cruising World. He was so enthralled by what he read about this remote and then undeveloped South Pacific island, that he decided to move here part time. We became friends and he invited us over for a delicious lunch at his house one afternoon. He also told us about Maud and Louis, an interesting French-Tahitian couple, who we visited and later joined for lunch as well. Maud and Louis have been living on Maupiti, on motu Pitihahei to be precise, since 1996. They built an amazing house – round, open and airy - out of natural materials, with a coral floor. The interior design is very creative, authentic, and practical. Their “million dollar view” looks out over the pass and the reefs, with Bora Bora and Raiatea in the distance on a clear day. We had a wonderful afternoon with them.

Although Maupiti had us in its grip, the cyclone season is upon us (there is no hiding and being safe in this lagoon if a named storm hits) and Mark and I needed to get back to civilization. So, sadly, we said our goodbyes to new made friends and to a place that will evoke fond memories.

Windward side of motu Tuanai

Irie and Heartbeat at anchor near the southern motus

Picture window, looking out to the pass, in Maud and Louis' house

View from the balcony of Maud and Louis' house on the point


Part of the kitchen downstairs

Louis in his living room

Coral along the channel near the pass

View from motu Pitihahei

Motu Tiapaa

Delicious and extensive lunch at John's place

Nanu, John, Mark and Jennifer in John's yard

Full moon over Maupiti

Maud and Louis' extraordinary house

One of the new residents of the house

Louis cooked a wonderful lunch in an amazing setting

One of the guest bedrooms in a separate fare (house/hut): the bed rests on a va'a. Creativity galore on this property!

Even the "vacuum cleaner" is part of nature!

Friendly company on motu Tiapaa

Sundowners with Monique and Garth on motu Tiapaa's sand spit

Monique playing with her "poi" at sunset

Monique putting on a show for us!

Getting ready to snorkel Maupiti's pass

Some kind of sea snake

Blackspotted sole (kind of flounder)

Particular butterflyfish

Two manta rays underneath us in the lagoon

And the third one - this one is huge!


Lisa Dorenfest said...

So many gorgeous photographs! I love your blog. Wonderful that you go to meet so many lovely people. Am jealous that you got to swim with the mantas - I guess they are really there if you are just patient enough to wait for them.

Liesbet said...

Thanks, Lisa! Patience is key and... knowing where to go. :-) We already miss Maupiti. Too bad it is cyclone season, or we'd go back and stay there a bit. Enjoy NZ - I am sending you warm weather thoughts!