We’re still in French Polynesia but the Tuamotus couldn’t be more different from the Marquesas, and it goes beyond the obvious geological differences. The people are different, for one thing. Marquesans are tall and strong; you can see how they got the reputation as fierce warriors. The Tuamotans are smaller, very gentle and friendly. I can only speculate that generations of vastly different diets accounts for the distinction but what do I know?
The Marquesans are hunter-gatherers. Their land is teeming with fruit and game, there for the taking. You couldn’t starve if you tried. Here in the Tuamotus there are coconuts and there are fish. Eating takes some effort and the diet, even with food being shipped in weekly, is much less varied.
We were struck immediately by how carefully planted and tended the tiny strip of land is. The ground can’t support big trees like breadfruit or mango, but this little village is green and bright with flowers at every turn. We rarely walk down the main road without seeing someone planting a seedling or tending the garden. The Marquesas are exuberant, wild, profuse; the Tuamotus are manicured, studied, tidy. At least this one is. I suppose we shouldn’t generalize on our first stop.
The art is different, too, as we saw immediately when we visited the church. Gone are the ubiquitous massive wood carvings of the Marquesas, replaced with elaborate and colorful shell work. This is the land of black pearls and the icons are adorned with what is most valuable to the parishioners.
The Internet has reached this little town of Rotoava but it doesn’t always work out in the anchorage so we walk about two kilometers to Fakarava Yacht Services, which is a young French couple who facilitate yachtie needs and offer wifi on their front porch for the cruisers. Everyone in the anchorage eventually ends up here to check email, order parts, or Skype home.
On Saturday we rented bikes from Yacht Services and pedaled the length of the paved road and some of the unpaved, too, some 20-25 miles all told. It was a gusty, squally day so that pedaling with the wind was a joy but the return against the 18 knot tradewind was brutal. It’s been a long time since we’ve biked and our legs were barely up to it, but it felt good and allowed us to visit the many pearl farm boutiques dotted along the lagoon. We admired the pearls but even directly from the source the pieces are out of our budget.
There are several dive resorts here in Rotoava, as well as a few restaurants with limited hours. We tried the Rotoava Grill, open for lunch only on weekends, and while there wasn’t anything for me to eat, Jack had mahi-mahi with frites and we both enjoyed the soft pastel palette of the lagoon and the babel of French, German, English and Tahitian that is our current soundtrack.