French Polynesia

After 9 hours of plane

Tahiti – Sunday, July 19th 2020

19 miles is the distance displayed on my screen. 19 miles are the last miles left to cover before landing. Only 19 small kilometers on the 4.121 separating Tahiti from Los Angeles. I feel a shiver of excitement, curiosity and relief. The plane continues its long descent into the night. Landing is scheduled in 7 minutes. Soon I set foot in Tahiti, a lifelong dream that today becomes reality.
My mask on, I get off the plane by the front stairs.
Surprised by the rather cool temperature, it is the southern winter. 

Air Tahiti Nui

An old pickup truck arrives, it’s Alexis and Lovina. Alexis has been living in Tahiti for more than 20 years. Lovina is the archetype of the vahine, long black hair and golden complexion. Both are passionate about surfing and sliding, they take care of the Manomano Lodge, the small pension where I chose to put my bags for the next few weeks.
“Ia Orana, did you have a good trip?” Alexis asks me. Here, everyone is on first-name terms. “Ia Orana” means Hello in Tahitian.

des ados
Manomano Lodge
Manomano lodge Tahiti
Carte avion
Francs Pacifique

On the road, we stop at the bakery. Good smell of fresh bread! It feel strange to hear French spoken after more than 6 months abroad. I buy a croissant and a wholemeal bread. “430 Francs” the cashier tells me, here we count in Pacific Franc.
A sign indicates “Papara”. We stop in front of the supermarket. At random from the shelves I catch yoghurt, butter, egg. I arrive at the alcohol section obstructed by a sign indicating “alcohol closed”. I’m surprised and ask what it means. Alexy explains to me that at the beginning of the lockdown and until the end of April, the sale of alcohol had been completely forbidden and since then it’s regulated and forbidden after 6 pm and on Sundays. Several reasons have been given to limit alcohol, gatherings and also domestic violence…
I was just craving for a local beer to celebrate my arrival in Polynesia.
We leave the main road and turn right then left on a dirt road and then right again at the level of a huge mango tree. We arrived at the Manomano lodge. Some bungalows drowned in the greenery, paddle boards, surfboards, an outrigger and as background music, the ocean.
I settle in my studio. A large terrace overlooks the garden. White tiles, white wall, white ceiling, a small kitchen and shower room on the ground floor. A staircase leads to the attic room with a window on the roof. This window on the roof reminds me of my teenage bedroom where I used to listen to the rain falling and look at the stars.

Maison traditionnelle
lever de soleil
sable noir

Golden light & black sand

I went to Tahiti with imges of postcards and exotic scents. And as soon as I woke up for the first time, there was this incredible view of the lagoon. This view, the silence, and my steps on the beach as the sun slowly rose. This deep black sand that tickles the light.
And then, this horizon, this horizon that shakes me and carries me away in a few seconds. Which tells me that yes, that these next few weeks will be luminous.

sable noir
plage de sable noir

PK 39

But what does these two letters P and K followed by a number painted on the road markers mean?
PK stands for Point Kilometre, it’s the system used in Polynesia to indicate addresses. The marker 0 corresponds to the center of the main city: in Tahiti PK 0 is the Papeete Cathedral, in Moorea it’s the Vaiare quay, in Raiatea, Uturoa and in Bora Bora, Vaitape.

PK 39

On the roadsides and at the market, you find some “hot map”. These are the fruits of the mape that are boiled. These almonds have a small taste of chestnut.

Listening to the Mape

Mape (Ma-pé) his name thunders like a drumbeat. But it’snt only his name that resounds, his trunk too! By hitting his trunk with a pebble, the ancient Tahitians could communicate from valley to valley. These percussions resounded far into the forest and even as far as the sea. Mysterious, majestic, extravagant with its tortuous protuberances covered with moss, the mape, from the top of these 30 meters dominates the forest. It’s also called the Tahitian chestnut tree. Over time, the trunk of the mape takes on sculptural forms. Large flat roots sprout and undulate like tentacles.

Mape chaud

Fruits & Po’e

Passion fruit, papaya, mango, pineapple, banana… Every morning, Lovina leaves me a plate of fruit.

On the picture in the center, we can see two passion fruits, hanging on a liana that winds up just in front of my terrace. Yellow, orange or pink, gorged with juicy seeds with a hint of acidity, it’s a pure delight for breakfast.

Fruits de la passion
fruits exotiques

What is Po’e (bottom left of the plate)? It’s a typical Polynesian dish made of starch, fruit purée and coconut milk. It’s pronounced po – é. It’s usually prepared with bananas, guava or papaya. It’s for me the perfect Tahitian delicacy, even if traditionally, po’e is served as a main course as an accompaniment to meat or fish, and soaked in coconut milk. Its particular texture oscillates between sticky and fondant. 

prune du gouverneur

The governor plum

The size of a cherry, red, this small red-bordeaux fruit when ripe has a particularity. Before tasting it and in order for it to lose its bitterness, it is necessary to knead it in the hand so that it becomes a little soft and thus releases all its sweet flavour.
This curious plum, originally from Malaysia, was named in honor of a governor of Madagascar who introduced it to the island.

All you need to know about the “uru”

The fruit of the breadfruit tree that is called “uru” and is pronounced “ourrrou” by rolling the r.
The uru is one of the basic ingredients of traditional Polynesian cuisine. It’s a round fruit (or more elongated depending on the variety) the size of a balloon. It can be recognized that it’s ripe when it starts to get brownish stains.
It can be prepared in several ways: boiled, roasted or steamed or more simply on a wood fire or directly on the stovetop. I have also tasted uru in the form of large golden brown french fries.

arbre à pain
uru cuit

The legend of the origin of the breadfruit tree (tumu uru)
A long time ago, famine settled in Raiatea. Rua-ta’ata and his wife Rumau-ari’i lamented the fate of their four starving children who were forced to eat red earth and led them to a cave in the mountain to eat ferns. One evening Rua-ta’ata told his wife:
“O Rumau-ari’i, when you awaken in the morning go outside and see my hands that have become leaves, look at the trunk and its branches, it will be my body and my legs, and the round fruit that you will see will be my skull; the heart of the fruit will be my tongue. Roast the fruit, let it soak in water, then remove the skin by beating it and eat it, then give it to our children; then you will not be hungry anymore.
Then Rua-ta’ata left his wife in the cave with the children.
The next day Rumau-ari’i got up early and saw that the entrance to the cave was shaded by a beautiful tree, and that ripe fruit had fallen to the ground. Everything was going as her husband had predicted and she named this small valley Tua-uru (Bread Tree Square). It was then that she grasped the meaning of her husband’s words, and, while crying, she gathered the fruit, cooked it and fed it to her children and ate it herself.
One day, the king’s servants entered this valley to look for eels and deer and saw skins of the fruit of the breadfruit tree coming down the stream. They picked them up, and when they tasted the pieces attached to them, they cried out, “How good this food is! Where does it come from? “Then they searched for this fruit in the valley bottom and when they came to the small clearing, they saw the wonderful tree.
Rumau-ari’i was by the tree and they asked him, “What is this fruit? »
She replied, “It is the Uru.
“Where does he come from? ».
“From here, from my husband Rua-ta’ata who turned into a breadfruit tree out of sorrow at seeing me and my children without food.”
Source Tahiti Heritage 

noix de coco

The secrets of coconut milk

Have you ever wondered how coconut milk is prepared?
Step 1: Remove the coconut wadding by hitting it on a stake planted in the ground.
Step 2: split it in two with a machete and collect the coconut water.
Step 3: Extract the pulp from the coconut by grating it.
Step 4: put the pulp in a cotton muslin and press it over a bowl to extract the coconut milk.
And voila the coconut milk is ready!

Rape nox de coco

Heilani prepared this fresh coconut milk

les fleurs

Heilani explains to me the meaning of the Tahitian tiara flower:
If you wear it on your left ear, on the side of your heart, it indicates that you are taken;
If you place it on your right ear, it means that you are available.
If you wear tiaras on both sides at the same time, it means that you are married but still available!
And if the tiara is worn backwards it means available “immediately”.

Heilani and the flower crowns

Heilani translates as Celestial Crown. Heilani is a first name of Hawaiian origin that comes from “hei” meaning “crown” and “lani” meaning “heaven”.
Heilani, I met her through my FB paddle network.
Heilani is blonde, sporty looking, she grew up in Papara and lives in Mataiea with her 2 boys and her husband Georges, all passionate about surfing, paddle and va’a.
Heilani is very attached to Tahitian traditions and culture.
One afternoon, she offered to teach me how to make a flower wreath. I join her on the black sand beach of Taharuu in Papara.
Hibiscus, frangipane (here called tipanier), ylang ylang tiare Tahiti (the gardenia, undoubtedly the most emblematic of the local flowers are delicately placed on the river. It’s so that it will soften, Heilani tells me. We sit on the sand. Heilani grabs the string and wraps the stems of a red hibiscus, then adds foliage, wraps the string, adds two branches of ylang ylang and so on, the crown takes shape.

Fabrication d'une couronne
couronne de fleurs

Va’a session

Having Georges Consteadt as my coach for my first time in va’a is a bit like learning to surf with Kelly Slater or play golf with Tiger Woods!
“Paddle on the left” says Georges! I’m trying as hard as I can to stay on course in this thin and light 7m long boat. I’m amazed by the fluidity of the glide. But be careful not to capsize because the outrigger is only on one side.

Georges Cronsteadt

Vaʻa is a word in Tahitian, Samoan and Hawaiian that means “boat” or “canoe”.
It’s a type of traditional outrigger, used mainly for fishing and short distance travel. Stability is provided by a single pendulum (ama in different Polynesian languages). This pendulum is connected to the hull by two wooden arms (iato). Rubber straps are used for the links. The oarsman is equipped with a single paddle like in a canoe.
The first pirogues were made of hollowed out wooden trunks. Nowadays the va’a has been modernized using composite materials.
There are different types of va’a :
– the V1 (va’a hoe) is individual and measures approximately 7 meters
– the V3 (va’a toru) for three people is about 11 meters tall
– the V6 (va’a ono) for 6 people is about 13 meters long
– the V12 (va’a tauati or double pirogue) is composed of two twin V6 va’a type .
The va’a is also the national sport in Polynesia.
The race so much awaited by all the clubs of Va’a is ”Hawaiki-Nui Va’a” which connects the islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora, unfortunately cancelled this year because of Covid. frown


To explore the lagoon by paddleboard, it’s this way cool

Follow me on social media, share and write me from time to time, it could be worth more than what you can imagine …
… When you spend hours paddling and you’re on the other side of the world embarassed

Follow me on social media, share and write me from time to time, it could be worth more than what you can imagine …
… When you spend hours paddling and you’re on the other side of the world embarassed