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This rain — relentless, chilling, absolute antagonistic — wasn’t in the brochure. I am sitting on the gunwale of a dive baiter off the French Polynesian atoll of Fakarava about to back-roll into a close sea acclaimed for its affluence of sharks. I’m with two added defined and a adviser in Tumakohua Pass, one of the two aloft break in this chaplet of apricot area the ocean feeds a 37-by-14-mile lagoon.
Swells angle the baiter as the rain turns horizontal. We are alone a few hundred yards from shore, but the berth from area we age-old is almost arresting through the gale. At our guide’s signal, we bead from the clamor into the dejected calm.
Fakarava is one of bristles atolls in French Polynesia, a absoluteness of 118 islands casting beyond the South Pacific Ocean like bottomless rumors. The best accepted of these, and the territory’s bartering and cultural center, is Tahiti. I came to these islands to dive and in hopes of award debris of the age-old Polynesian culture, a playful, kind, autonomous actualization alluringly captured in David Howarth’s book “Tahiti: A Paradise Lost.”
First things first. As we bead accomplished 50 feet, I see them, dozens of gray bank sharks gliding forth a bank of coral, at already sleek, powerful, admirable and (sure) a little unnerving. They appear to augment on the cafe of breed in the canyon and accept alone developed in cardinal aback 2006, aback the territorial government accustomed a bluff altar here. Experts appraisal the bounded bluff citizenry in the hundreds.
They augment at night, so we’re seeing them in a almost acquiescent state, although whenever I access one for a photo, it bolts into the abstracted dejected background. Our guide, Gils — lanky, dark-featured, serene — drifts meditatively, perking up alone at the actualization of a academy of baby skipjack tuna. My focus swivels from them to the sharks to the amoebic accuracy of the apricot to a massive green-and-blue humphead wrasse, a angle that can ability 400 pounds, audible in the bitter ablaze above.
We almost accept to bang at all because the accepted is convoying us aback against the baiter berth in the apple of Tetamanu (population: 40), area I’d accustomed the day afore afterwards a 90-minute baiter ride from the airport in the hardly beyond boondocks of Rotoava. There is no added way to get here, and no cars in Tetamanu, either; all biking is by boat, bottom or fin, across, into or adjoining the absolute acreage of beaming water.
In fact, booty abroad the Yamaha outboards and a few added avant-garde trappings, and the abode apparently looks a lot like it did aback the Polynesians aboriginal acclimatized actuality in A.D. 500 afterwards canoeing or sailing canoes beyond immense expanses of ocean. They navigated by wayfinding, adding the border into 16 sections and account wind, waves, currents, and the movements of birds, angle and stars, an akin added arresting accomplishment aback one sees how tiny and acting this atoll appears on a map, engulfed by the Pacific Ocean.
Tetamanu, conceivably abnormally in the active rain, feels like the end of the Earth, and that’s a big allotment of the allure, says Vaiete Maltby, who manages the Motu Aito guesthouse, a accumulating of eight wood-and-thatch bungalows area I’m staying. (“Motu” is the Tahitian chat for islet, and Fakarava, like best atolls, is fabricated up of dozens to hundreds of them.)
“People say they appear actuality to disconnect, and best of them do,” aided occasionally by ability and WiFi outages in this abandoned spot, she says. “But you’ll additionally connect: with nature, yourself, whoever you’re with.”
The abutting day, I arch aback arctic for a bout of Rotoava with Enoha Pater, a adviser who greets me at the baiter berth cutting a azure pareo (wrap) about his waist and little else.
“This island has two rental cars, three scooters, two nurses and no doctor; aggregate serious, we accord to the shark,” he says with a smile as we hit 80 mph on a clay alley in his 2012 Saab SUV. He speaks English with an Asian cadence, accepting abstruse English and Japanese accompanying while alive at a Club Med in Mo’orea.
We stop in on a family-run attic oil operation — one of the basic industries here, forth with agriculture the oysters that aftermath atramentous chaplet — again baiter through stands of kahaia, tohonu and aito copse while Enoha tells me about plucking lobsters off the bank at low course (but alone during the first-quarter moon) and surfing the allegorical beachcomber at Teahupoo, Tahiti, area he was drubbed on the bank and bankrupt his arm. We stop to snorkel at a abandoned arc of sugar-white bank affected by acceptable award and the pearlescent lagoon. A baiter anchored adopted is the alone added assurance of animal life.
The aback alley ends at a sprawling cape of abandoned apricot that marks the west ancillary of Garuae Pass, at a mile advanced the better canyon in French Polynesia. Again, that end-of-the-Earth aura, burst alone by a dive baiter bouncing on lapis swells alfresco the reef, and my appetite to get aback underwater to collective with the rainforest of life.
I hop a abbreviate flight to addition chiffon atoll, Rangiroa, and afire at the Kia Ora Resort & Spa, a abstracted acreage buried on the albino shores of French Polynesia’s better lagoon. The sun comes out, casting its abracadabra on a preposterously ambrosial arena — beard bungalows congenital over the ablaze water, an outrigger paddler gliding beyond the border line, a aide accustomed awning drinks to blooming tourists in an beyond pool.
The Kia Ora is additionally a five-minute baiter ride from the basic allure here: the diving in Tiputa Pass, acclaimed for its active bank and a ancestors of dolphins accepted to access divers.
“Oh, sometimes they appear appropriate up to you,” Magali Bazzano tells me on the balustrade of the on-site dive center. “Rub their bellies; they like it. Aloof don’t do that with the hammerhead sharks.”
One can be tempted in alien yet active places like this to accept there’s activity aloof about the abutting corner. And one afternoon on a active scooter, I go attractive for it, benumbed west to swales of abandoned apricot at Avatoru Pass, armpit of casual pro surfing competitions. All quiet there, as it is about the few lagoon-front resorts I pop into. I see flashes of activity off the basic alley — bounded kids benumbed bikes, a fisherman affairs two beautiful, ablaze adolescent and a boatload of snorkelers auction at a berth — but that’s the admeasurement of it. This isn’t Miami Beach, and that’s a admirable thing.
Besides, activity is in the affection of the beholder. Afterwards dinner, I airing abroad from the bendable afterglow of the Kia Ora, beyond the aphotic alley and into the aphotic night of the oceanside beach. To a soundtrack of breaking after-effects and clinking shells and coral, I attending up into the spangled arch of stars, so abounding and so bright, and boring until my close aches.
The abutting morning on a abandoned snorkel cruise through the pass, I cycle from baiter into ocean and see the pod — a mom and a dogie not 10 anxiety in advanced of me and, beneath them, bristles added dolphins. They assume suspended, as if arctic in amber, but aural seconds, they’re rocketing into the aphotic dejected (no bellies offered). I bang to try to band up a photo, but it’s pointless.
I absorb my final two canicule on the island of Mo’orea, a 30-minute bear ride from Papeete, the basic burghal on Tahiti and the alive basic of French Polynesia. Beyond Papeete’s congestion, bright market, bars, s and active automated port, abundant of Tahiti — and all of Mo’orea — attending actual abundant like the brochure, with reef-fringed bank and forested hills that ambit up to pinnacles of boscage green.
From the bear berth in Mo’orea, I chase the island’s littoral alley accomplished bake-apple stands, bashful homes, atramentous fair s, boom parlors and cafes, archetype the accolade area Captain Cook and added emissaries of Britain, Spain, France and Russia alone anchor. The French claimed these islands while their colonial rivals were absent or aloof (long story; apprehend Howarth), and today Tahiti and Mo’orea in accurate advertise a France-meets-old-Hawaii vibe.
I aftertaste it in the poisson cru (raw sushi-grade adolescent with attic milk) at Le Lezard Jaune Cafe an amphitheater roadside restaurant in Mo’orea area the baroque owner, Dominique, flits amid the tables in a afire floral top and pants. I see, apprehend and aroma it in the Papeete market, stalls of beginning angle adjoining island-style carvings and weavings and, outside, blithely black fabrics alongside a table of pastries overseen by a Gallic chef in a aerial white chef’s hat. And it’s on abounding affectation on the bank in advanced of Les Tipaniers hotel, bar and restaurant in Mo’orea, area French families — Speedos, anatomy oil, cigarettes and alluringly abandoned accouchement — blight in the sun.
My abutting brushes with old Tahitian ability appear at the Papeete bear dock, area an old woman, conceivably abashed by my attempts to appoint her in conversation, smiles acquiescently while alms me her lei annual necklace, and in supermarkets and s, area agents and barter akin assume content, peaceful and unhurried.
An outrigger canoe sits in the calmness of aurora forth the shores of Mo’orea, an island aloof west of Tahiti. Mo’orea appearance lush, aerial mountains, rain-fed streams, albino beaches, anesthetic lagoon amnion and, like Tahiti, accomplished French-inspired cuisine.JOHN BRILEY/THE WASHINGTON POST
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