Peter Cooper, our Children’s Work Director, is currently on a year long world wide trip with his family. Here he writes about his experiences so far.
For our last weekend in the UK we threw ourselves fully into the Bursledon Regatta both participating in the various races and cheering on the Hand Family and their Mistress (boat name). We then had two days to pack up our floating home and negotiate with the children on how many of their soft toys could really fit into their hand luggage. Fittingly our final journey was by canoe all the way to Botley where we stayed overnight before heading to London. The trip to the airport on the tube was hilarious. Two bags on wheels, two SUP boards in rucksacks, two children and two bags clearly with many more soft toys than had last been agreed.
Our transit through LA was predictably like herding cows. Arrival in Tahiti also involved livestock, but in this case it was the chickens running around the arrivals hall. In LA you are met with finger printing and facial recognition in Tahiti there is two fellas playing their ukulele’s and a French Polynesian lady dancing.
It’s a curious place. Miles away from anywhere but very familiar to anyone who has been to France. Carefleur supermarkets and every bicycle has rider with a French stick under their arm. The scenery is dramatic as volcanic peaks tower into the sky. The Island of Tahiti is one of 123 Islands and atolls that make up the French Polynesia and occupies an area the size of Europe. Speaking of which, the locals are completely occupied by Brexit as their economy is very reliant on the EU. The main Island of Tahiti is divided into Tahiti Nui (big Tahiti) and Tahiti Iti (little Tahiti). We are staying on the wild and more remote east side of Tahiti Nui just north of where little and big are joined. The West Coast is the tourist Mecca where the French and American flock for a week in the sun. In contrast we are staying in the only holiday accommodation for miles. So far the Air B&B experience has been magic. This place is everything we hoped for and more. Three bungalows thatched with coconut palms set in a garden with a traditional open plan meeting house and a beach with hardly a soul in sight. The meeting house doubles as the school room for 2 hours everyday and then it’s proper beach school thereafter. The day starts at 0515 to witness the sunrise and then we head out in kayaks. The bay is protected by a coral reef about a mile off shore. We came here first in the hope to see some of the humpback whales which give birth around the islands. We only have to stand at the end of the garden to see them. Twenty or more sighted to date and we have kayaked within metres of them. I couldn’t quite understand how these huge creatures were able to come so close to shore without stranding. That was until we went for a snorkel on a shallow reef just metres from the beach. The reef itself was literally a scene from Finding Nemo, far more diverse than any I’ve seen in Australia. But then as I reached the edge of the reef the drop off into the depths was simply jaw dropping and instantly the fear of the unknown hits you. So clearly the shallow reef is dissected by channels which are phenomenally deep with plenty of room for the whales.
The neighbourhood is a mixture of modern beach houses owned by well resourced Tahitians escaping for the weekend from the choked streets of the capital Papeete, alongside shacks where fisherman scrape a living for their families using hand lines and traditional canoes. They are all hugely welcoming and want to share their resources great or small. The economy is solely dependent on tourism and the seemingly abundant fish stocks. When the French nuclear testing ceased in 1996, unemployment exploded such was the scale of the administration based in Tahiti to detonate 141 bombs on a tiny atoll miles away from anywhere. The cost of living is stunningly high and takes some getting used to. There are also some odd discrepancies. For instance I needed some medicine for one of the children. At home this would have cost me three days in navigating the telephone appointment service for the next available slot in a months time. Here I just strolled into the pharmacy to be instantly issued the required medicine. I was wincing at the potential cost waving my biggest denomination of Polynesian Francs at the pharmacist. Mousieur shook his head so I divide for another note of equal value. Still Mousier shook his head, flip flop this is going to really hurt. I resorted to the plastic. Mousier threw his arms up in the air and demanded that I emptied my pockets on the counter. He then selected a few small coins from the detritus and fluff, slapped the till shut and bid me good day. At least I think that’s what he said. The contrast being that a bar of soap just cost me 10 quid. Food at the super market costs a fortune where as local produce on the numerous road side stools costs a few coins. The fruit is amazing. Thirteen different varieties of bananas which taste so nice. The Mangos, pawpaw and custard apples are gorgeous and the coconuts literally fall out of the trees.
The biodiversity on the land is oddly limited. The islands in geological terms are young having been forced out of the ocean by volcanic explosions. Their remoteness has also limited the spread of land based flora and forna. Frigate birds, a few species of herons and finches are all that you see. The dense rainforest high in the mountains has a few rarities but not many. The ocean on the other hand is where the eco diversity is numerous.
The girls have slipped into their new routine really well. The locals have scooped them up and taught them Tahitian dancing. They have already danced in a show in traditional dress made for them by one of their many new aunties. Aunties grandmas then arrive and teach them basket and headdress weaving.
A few oddities:
* the moon is the wrong way up
* crabs live in trees up mountains
* the eels are truly massive and live in the roadside ditches.
Last week we had three nights away staying in our hosts city apartment in Papeete. It’s glory days of colonial grandeur are clearly over. Grand but decaying buildings sit next to homes made of corrugated iron. The waterfront and harbour is a welcome getaway from the polluted grid locked streets. We took the opportunity to jump on fast ferry almost identical to the red jet to visit the neighbouring island of Moorea. The ferry is considerably cheaper than our own red jet and the experience is enhanced by being able to stand on the foredeck being blasted by the wind, riding the swell. Moorea is a picture postcard turquoise blue tropical island of breath taking beauty. Highlights included visiting a turtle rehabilitation centre, dolphin sanctuary and driving up into the craters of volcanoes.
In ten days we head to the Cook Islands following the humpbacks on their migration south.
Thanks for this opportunity to spend so much quality time with my family.