Tuesday, February 28, 2017

French Polynesia

French Polynesia, Part 1

Yes, we just returned from a cruise. And no, I hadn't been on a cruise before except sailing on a passenger ship from NYC to Le Havre France when I was twenty. So why did we go? Why not, as they say in Tahiti. The brochure had beautiful photos, the ship was small enough to sail into a lagoon, and we don’t ski. So New Hampshire in February can drag on.

You see from the map that French Polynesia is midway between South America and Australia. You can get a sunburn in ten minutes. The ocean tides are only 12 inches so don’t matter. Winter and summer are not truly very different from each other, at least from my perspective. I believe the wind changes direction. We learned that French Polynesia (or FP) has an area as large as Europe, but of course 99% of it is underwater. But those coral reefs and clear waters are important.

Our core group on the boat was MIT alumni and spouses and family. That made up eleven of us including our fearless leader Lauren from the MIT alumni office. She has great cat herding skills, and we loved her help and kindness too. We enjoyed our MIT chums. We usually got caught up on our day’s activities over dinner. Alumni groups made up about half of the passengers on the cruise. Some were accompanied by professors who gave well received talks on subjects of local interest and history.

We visited a new island each day, sailing many hours through the night to reach the next place. They are not within sight of each other.

I started sketching at the LAX, Los Angeles airport. I was already enchanted with the royal blue and aqua uniforms and the flowers behind the ears. Soon I would have a flower behind my ear. They are tiare, the symbol of FP. A member of the gardenia family, they are cool, waxy, and fragrant.

Before we got on the ship, we took a tour of part of the island of Tahiti. A marae is a native ancestral worship site. It was blazing hot and humid, but drawing focuses your mind. At least for a few minutes.

 The market in Pape’ete was colorful. You could buy anything there from a woven hat to a very expensive black pearl necklace. I bought a red fan and swished it in the direction of my red face. My husband bought me some jewelry that I love, of the reasonably priced kind. Carved shells, and pearls.

Before we set sail on the first night, I was up on the top deck drawing Pape’ete. So green, with enormously steep hills.

Our first island to explore the next morning was Huahine. Our ship the MS Paul Gauguin is sitting nicely in the lagoon. Our friendly guide drove about ten of us around most of the island, stopping often. (There were many choices of off-ship excursions every day.) 

  One of the stops was a shallow stream where the sacred eels live. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see 6-9 foot eels, 6 inches in diameter, but I can tell you that they were adorable. Bright blue eyes, a cute smile, big ears, and they gathered around the guide like puppies. Wet puppies. The natives never eat them, but feed them fish guts and table scraps, and the guides feed them fish from a can.

Fakarava is an atoll famous for wonderful places to scuba dive. The atoll is sort of a thin circular island only a few feet above sea level. The middle volcano portion has fallen back into the sea.

We don’t scuba dive, so we sat in the shade, took a walk, spoke in French to adults, children, babies, and dogs. Then we went for a little swim avoiding the coral. We both saw lots of minnow-like fish, all bright blue.

I spotted this while on our walk and it looked fun to try to draw. My new friend on the beach said it is used for racing.

While waiting for the tender to return, I drew some kids playing tag in the heat. 

This is my attempt to draw moving water from our porthole. 

We had flowers and fruit in our room, which makes an easy still life. The fruit isn’t tropical, but the flower is.

We had quite a few cloudy days and a couple of rainy ones. These storms didn’t move any closer. The water really was sort of royal blue.

More next month