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Tahiti

We finally made it to Tahiti when the French government had decided to resume nuclear testing on the Atoll Mururoa, so Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior was on its way from NZ, and protests were being organised in Papeete. The Tahitians didn't want the testing done in their backyard again, and the atmosphere was more than a little intense. The locals had barricaded the exits out of the city. We had to walk through the protesters and around barricades to get in and out of the city, a bit like running the gauntlet. I guess I looked enough like a yachtie that they didn’t harass us. This was a very big deal, causing an uproar throughout the Pacific, and became world news while it lasted. It lead to a hangover of boycotts of French products, such as wine.

While the action was heating up in Papeete, we cruised around Tahiti - there are many spectacular anchorages with very few boats. Most people sail in and just spend time in the main harbour of Papeete, which is a shame, because they miss the best of Tahiti.

After spending the last two months aboard with only 14 days near land and other people, I looked forward to the socialising with other yachties. We had already met many interesting and intrepid sailors. There was a big fleet of small boats with cruisers in the 25-50 year old age range, which was a relief. We thought we'd be surrounded by retired Seppo's (equivalent of a punter). Nearly everyone was heading for NZ for November, which is the start of their summer.

We had a few memorable adventures on our circumnav of Tahiti. The island is absolutely stunning! The locals were very welcoming, and plied us with huge bunches of bananas. Unfortunately, they all ripen together, so we ended up eating so many in two days that I thought I’d never want to see another banana. When we couldn’t down another whole banana, we got into making banana bread, banana shakes, banana daiquiris, banana garnished curries- anything that looked remotely compatible. Along with the bananas, we were given fresh coconut, papaya, mango, guava, passion fruit - all delicious, and a welcome treat after eating only canned food during the long open-water passages. In exchange for the locals’ generosity, we gave the families a pile of kids clothing we had stocked up with before we left Tortola.

While cruising along the coastline, the views of the serrated peaks are stunning, and one breathtaking valley in particular beckoned. We removed the outboard from our inflatable and paddled through the surf line and up the river. We hopped over the side into the refreshingly cool mountain runoff to haul the inflatable up and over a few sets of rapids. When we could go no further we tied up to a tree on shore, and continued our adventure on foot. After trekking to the base of some awe-inspiring peaks, we returned to our inflatable, to find some kids had helped themselves to our dinghy anchor. Lesson learned.

We jumped in and shoved off and let the river pull us along on a relaxing drift. We made it unscathed through the first couple of rapids, but the third set wasn’t so kind. We caught a corner of a rock and slashed the floor of the inflatable. With water pouring in, the guys paddled furiously to get us through the surf line, which had built to Hawaii Five-0 proportions while we were ashore. Meanwhile, I bailed like a demon with a pair of size 12 Topsiders. Thinking we were being smart, we had removed all loose items that might go for a swim in a capsize, such as our bailer, before paddling ashore. Too bad we removed the bailer and not the anchor!

Another adventure was hitchhiking over 30 miles from the anchorage to the other side of the island to attend a fire walking ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the spectators are invited to give it a try. Our cruising mate Craig gave it a go. Being a stalwart Aussie, he would never admit that it was a little warm. At the end of the evening, the next adventure was trying to hitch a ride home. Easier said then done. I thought we'd end up sleeping on the beach! Finally a pick-up truck stopped and we piled in atop smelly fishing gear and coolers filled with toady’s catch.

Upon our return to Papeete we found a fleet of our cruising friends had arrived just in time for Bastille Day. We went en masse to the traditional dance competition. Early every morning the women from the villages gather to weave together hundreds of beautiful costumes from the verdant foliage adorning the island. If the dance troupe progresses to the finals, another round of costume weaving is in order. This was truly the most spectacular part of the competitions. Wandering backstage was a barrage on the senses. Besides being incredibly colourful, the smell was divine.

Another part of the entertainment was just sitting in the bleachers and watching the crowds around us, trying to pick out who were actually young men dressed as women. This is a part of their culture, to raise a young boy as a female. They are usually even more beautiful than the genuine girls, complete with makeup, and nice clothes. The men in our crowd were always more than a little embarrassed to find out they were lusting after what they thought was a pretty young girl!

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