Bastille Day

July 14, 2003, 4:00 p.m.

At Anchor, Punaauia, Tahiti, French Polynesia


  Moonrise, Moorea

Greetings to all our friends and family!

When we originally planned this trip, one of the great goals was to be in Tahiti for Bastille Day.  We had read numerous accounts of the dance contests, rowing contests, art displays, and other activities not to be missed.  But, as luck would have it, this year is different.  Bastille Day is basically a French celebration.  The Polynesians couldn't care less about it (except it makes a great three-day weekend and an extra day of business closures).  What the Polynesians care about is the Heiva festival, which usually is celebrated for the three weeks LEADING UP TO Bastille Day.  But this year, they've moved it to the three weeks AFTER Bastille Day, apparently because Jacques Chirac is visiting next week. We need to move on, if we're ever going to make it to New Zealand at the end of the season, so we'll miss the celebration this year.  Perhaps that's a good reason to come back!

Mark arranged his visit to also be here on Bastille Day, and in fact he leaves tomorrow night.  Today we did some grocery shopping during the three hours the store was open, then went snorkeling over the reef, and this evening we'll socialize with other boaters in the anchorage.  We think that's a great way to celebrate Bastille Day!

We spent about a week in Moorea, returning here yesterday.  Moorea is quite the vacation spot.  Lots of tourists, lots of cruise ships, and luxury hotels with bungalows stretching out over the water.  We did some of the tourist things, but mostly we enjoyed the quiet beauty of Opunohu Bay.


North end of Oponohu Bay, looking north

Craig and I did a return visit to "Sting Ray World" -- a stretch of lagoon where the divemaster from the Beachcomber Hotel has been feeding the rays for years.  As before, when we arrived in our dinghy, about 15 rays were immediately around and under the boat.  I put on my snorkeling gear, and was first in the waist-deep water.  Several rays were right there, four inches from my face, rubbing up against me.  Yikes!  They feel like slightly slimy silk, and they're rather persistent.  It turns out we were there just a few minutes before the divemaster's daily 4:00 p.m. visit, and once he arrived, with his crew of French tourists, the rays all went over and rubbed all over him.  He had a little jar of fish scraps, which he fed alternately to the rays and to some seabirds who would catch the morsels mid-air.  The rays came four or five inches out of the water, and he would rub their noses (or whatever part of their anatomy that is) and feed them the scraps.  The ray's mouth is on the underneath side, so they would have their mouths right at water level, up against the guy's hip.

Tourists feeding stingray in Moorea lagoon

Nearby the stingray staging area is a reef.  Big colorful fish from the reef follow the rays around, no doubt hoping to catch crumbs.  We followed the fish back to the reef after we got bored with the sting ray show, and enjoyed an altogether different, more colorful show.  The stingrays look like big floppy elephant ears with tails.  The tropical fish look like exotic, flamboyant works of art.

East shore of Oponohu Bay, looking south

Moorea has benefited from (or is burdened by, depending on your point of view) considerable land use planning.  All the electric and telephone wires are undergrounded, so you see no utility poles.  (Pretty nice!)  But we heard about some negatives of the planning from a restaurant owner near where we anchored in Opunohu Bay.  We had noticed that nearly all the businesses were in Cooks Bay, and Opunohu Bay is more like a park with few houses and even fewer hotels.  The only restaurant on the bay is a little barge/excursion boat tied up to the west shore. 

It serves wonderful tapas, and the aroma of garlic and other flavorful things floats across the water.  We ate there one evening, and the owner told us he had to find a new moorage by the end of the July.  It turns out he was tied up in a "fishing" zone, and restaurants were not allowed there.  Heaven only knows how he set it up in the first place!


The morning we planned to leave Moorea, there was a 25-knot wind blowing across the anchorage.  We were concerned that the wind might be blowing even more strongly outside the bay (that's usually the case).  We decided to go anyway, and as it turns out, we had a fast but easy beam reach around Moorea and back to Papeete.  We're anchored in nearly the same spot as when we were last here, with the added "bonus" that -- it being a three day weekend -- the jet-skiers, water skiers, wind surfers, kite boarders and boating hot rodders are out in force.  We'll be glad to leave here in a few days and move on to the next destination -- Perhaps Huahine? 

I received word from friends in Oregon that Marty Jennings, a 32-year-old violinist and friend died last week at the Bloch Festival.  Marty was a very gifted musician who recently joined the Oregon Symphony.  I had the privilege of playing chamber music with him on a couple of occasions, and enjoyed getting to know him better when we drove from Portland to Newport for a concert.  Hearing about his death has set me along interesting paths of thought -- celebrating Marty's life and talent, and lamenting his premature death, being grateful that I've been able to make music for so much of my life, and really missing collaborative participatory music as we make this cruise. 

Mark emailing without tatoo

Mark sending e-mail.  Notice the pristine, pre-tattoo right arm...

Below: Next day...

Mark and new tattoo

Tomorrow morning, Mark's departure day, he plans to get a Tahitian tattoo.  This has been the subject of much debate and controversy, and several of our friends on other cruising boats have tried to talk him out of it.  We talked him out of it ourselves when he first joined us in the Marquesas, because of concerns about possible infection, distance from medical care, etc.  So, in deference to our wishes, he postponed it until the day of his departure.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out.  The Tahitians (and particularly the Marquesans) do have beautiful tattoos...

This evening we'll hum the Marseillaise (not remembering any of the words, of course), and then probably find and play the CD of the Stars and Stripes Forever.  Happy Bastille Day to all of you!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

Sequoia at anchor, Oponohu Bay, Moorea

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