Sailing Inside the Reef; Snorkeling In The Rain

Day 21, Grand World Voyage

Monday, Jan. 23, 2023; Uturoa, Raiatea, French Polynesia.

My friends Barbara and Richard love the Tales of the South Pacific cruises, with their many stops at the tropical islands from Tahiti to Fiji. They spend the days snorkeling and enjoying the beautiful beaches under the graceful palm trees.

I love the sea, but I’ve never felt that degree of passion for these islands or even those of the Caribbean. Perhaps it’s because my fair skin burns easily, I can sweat like a pig (do they even sweat?) and I get bored just lying on the sand. However, give me a cold local beer or an icy gin and tonic, a seat in shade and a gentle breeze, and I can people-watch for hours.

The latter is what Elaine and I did this afternoon at an outdoor restaurant on our way back from snorkeling in the rain. By the time we returned, the rain had stopped, the humidity had soared, and we just wanted something wet and cold.

French and Polynesian are the languages of all of French Polynesia. My two years of high school French don’t get me very far, and they didn’t help us ask the waitress about the various beers, or bieres, on the menu. We ordered a Tahitian brand, one each of Hinano Gold and Hinano Ambrée. We got the Gold and a Matavai Ambrée. Only later after paying did I notice they charged us for two of the more expensive Hinanos. Oh well, we enjoyed the break and can check two more breweries off our list.

My initial view of Raiatea was in the first light of morning through my drapes, which I had opened before bed. It looked like I could touch the nearby tree branches. Before dawn the Zuiderdam had cut through a small break in the coral reef surrounding the two islands of Raiatea and Taha’a, and we were moving at a steady pace in the lagoon just off the island of Taha’a toward the town of Uturoa on Raiatea.

By shortly after 8 a.m. we were moored and off on a boat excursion to vanilla and black pearl farms, followed by snorkeling from the beach of a motu, a small coral islet in the lagoon.

If the salt spray from the boat hadn’t gotten us wet, the rain shower that hit just as we arrived at the vanilla farm did. Even the cat took shelter.

We learned that while most vanilla comes from Madagascar, Indonesia and Mexico, Tahitian vanilla is a hybrid of two species and is hand pollinated. After learning about the long process of cultivating the vanilla beans, of course we had an opportunity to buy some from the source. I was tempted, but as I don’t have a house or a kitchen, I left it to Eloise to make the investment.

The rain had settled in, but we persevered on to a nearby cove to learn about black pearl farming. The tour description said we would get a guided tour of the farm, but in reality, we just sat for a demonstration of how the oysters are cultivated.

Then it was on in the rain to Motu Mahaea, a picturesque sandy islet covered in coconut palms. My sisters went ahead snorkeling during our brief stop while I walked around, avoiding getting conked on the head by a falling coconut, and took photographs.

On our way back, a school of reef sharks circled the boat just under the water’s surface.

When the Zuiderdam cruised in the South Pacific last fall, it rained every day. We’ve been lucky so far, as this was the first day we had more than a brief shower. And of course it is warm. We are in the South Pacific, not the American Midwest in the middle of winter. Life is good.