Canoe Craziness in lovely Tahiti...
TAHA'A, Tahiti - As I was saying on Wednesday before I got cut off at the "we close at 5 p.m. and by the way we have French keyboards" Internet Cafe, the Hawaiki Nui Va'a canoe race is something else.
Think the Tour de France and the Olympics and Mardi Gras all mixed together and you might get the party picture. Some 90 outrigger canoes (most from Polynesia and environs, plus Brazil and Germany) are taking part in a gruelling, three-day race over close to 100 kilometers.
The party started Tuesday night in the normally placid village of Fare on the island of Huahine. Thousands of folks stayed the night and by 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday boats were already filtering down the lagoon to line up for the launch.
It was insanity on the water, with radio stations, sponsor boats from the likes of Shell (the Shell team is four-time defending champion) and Total and the Tahiti electricity district, topless girls (hey, technically this IS France) on sleek yachts and families in junkbuckets with peeling paint that I wouldn't trust to get me from the bottom of Bay St. to Toronto Island, let alone across 15 or 20 miles of open ocean.
But there they all were, and it was glorious. And hot. Lordy, it was hot. I spent about half the time in the
cramped little cabin with the luggage just to keep the sun off me, and I'm a guy who lives for the sun. I did lather up pretty good with 50 sunscreen, but I never did find any lifejackets. Nobody in the entire Pacific Ocean wore one during the race that I could see. Small kids sitting down are one thing, but guys were traipsing up and down the sides of boats in some pretty decent swells and chop and they didn't seem to care.
I think the chop actually was worse for the canoeists - they ride six to a boat - than it was for us in the bigger boats. These guys were surrounded by boats and the chop was going to and fro and fro and to and all over. Still, it was a great four hours plus. And, of course, when the first leg finished in the harbour here in Raiatea the Shell team was WAY out front.
As we were about halfway a large group of flying fish came whizzing past the press boat. I saw a few the day before, but they were small. These appeared to be a foot long or so, and they were, I think, flapping what look like little wings. I swear I wasn't drinking. I thought they just jumped out of the water like a whale or dophin, but they stayed airborne for what seemed like eight or 10 seconds and carried 20 to 30 meters as far as I could tell. Really awesome.
For the racers, it was four hours in the blistering sun, paddling their hearts out. These guys are incredible athletes.
The water here is simply divine. Colours I've never seen; deep blues and aquarmarine and something in between. The Te Tiare Resort on Huahine was lovely and they had a great Tahitian dance show at night. They've got overwater bungalows and a small, lovely beach. I took out a kayak and did my best impression of a Canadian Olympian before tiring out after a half hour.
Very nice show also at the Hawaiki Nui Resort/Hotel on Raiatea, by the way. Look for photos and maybe some video in the coming months in Star Travel and on our web site.
Over on Raiatea, after the first leg of the race, we went to visit some Marae; old stone temples and buildings that date back hundreds of years to when Tahiti and French Polynesia - Hawaii, too, - were ruled by warring kings and worshiped multiple gods.
It's said the Marae on Raiatea are the second most important Polynesian site, topped only by Rapa Nui (Easter Island). You'd think there would be signs for the site, but you have to look carefully or hire a guide, even though the sites stretch over several hectares of beachfront property. Weird. There's talk of it being a UNESCO world heritage site, but some fear that would bring too many tourists.
They say that many Polynesians believe that when they die, their soul returns to this site, so it's quite