January 13-28, 2018
Guess I was destined to spend two weeks in paradise since I had spent three teenage years watching Adam Troy, ‘the captain of the schooner Tiki III, which sailed the South Pacific looking for passengers and adventures’ in paradise. I was a lot more interested in Gardner McKay than either his schooner or his adventures.
Here’s my schooner at Taiohae on the largest Marquesan island, Nuku Hiva, immortalized by Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Gauguin and Jack London. It was a strange first visit to French Polynesia since the half of the island where we anchored was the drought side... it was not lush, tropical green, but desiccated dry brown due to the rain patterns. You can see that on the parts of the island to either side of the Sun. Higher up and on the other side of the island, it was green and lush. In fact, we had a typical tropical pop-up deluge at one of our stops on the lush side.
Next stop, the Society island of Bora Bora, where the water was as turquoise and pristine as we had always imagined it would be. James Michener called Bora Bora ‘the South Pacific at its unforgettable best.’
I never got close enough to a ray to pet one, let alone give it a kiss — it helps to have a bucket of fish in your left hand.
Snorkeling taught me to be sure I put sunscreen on every exposed part, including my scapula, which ended up burnt to a crisp. I’d watched our boat driver anoint himself with suntan oil before he hopped overboard to feed the fishes. I must have been preoccupied, because I forgot to do the same.
On to the small city of Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu, the largest of 169 Tonga islands. Billboards all around town wished Happy Birthday to His Majesty King Tupou VI. The city name means ‘abode of love,’ and they do love their king.
There wasn’t much to see on the morning walking tour of the city, but the afternoon’s excursion to the family-run Ancient Tonga Cultural Center more than made up for it. The four generations demonstrated food preparation and craft techniques, performed on steel drums, invited us to share a ritual kava-drinking ceremony, and shared their pride in a culture that dates back thousands of years.
That afternoon convinced me that, from then on, I would always sign up for an excursion that showed me not just sights but something of the culture and lifestyle of the people whose country I was visiting. When I finally reached Southeast Asia, this included many religious sites. To the point that people on the ship could be heard muttering, ‘I’m all templed out.’
Adam Troy and his Tiki III are long gone, but there is no lack of attractive men in Polynesia. Though I should have warned him that dehusking coconuts with his teeth may, over the years, have a deleterious effect on his smile.
Tree bark or paper mulberry stalks are pounded fabric-thin then painted to make this cummerbund, dresses, and longer skirts worn by both men and women for ceremonial occasions — and dancing.
In keeping with my new Local Culture First directive, I cancelled my included Sights of Suva excursion in Fiji and paid extra for the Pacific Harbor Fire-walking Spectacular. To adapt the old education adage, ‘She who can does; she who can’t watches.’ This was one of the few times on the trip I’d wished I had a camera with a telephoto lens. Now I have a set of telephoto/wide angle/macro and fish-eye lenses for my iPhone; they'll all be tested next trip.
In this recreated Fijian village, we first watched a fire-walking ceremony (lots of photos in the original post, below), followed by the Fijian equivalent of a pep rally before the big battle with enemy islanders. Anything to get the testosterone flowing. The actual mano a mano fight to the death was recreated...
... and the loser was carried off to the winners’ village. Where he was ceremoniously eaten, so that the victors could nourish themselves with his strength and prowess.
Speaking of eating... a food mart in downtown Suva, the capital of the 330-island Fijian archipelago. As I had foreseen, the cultural-historical visit outside of town was much more interesting. #