Tahiti Lagoon Getaway 1: Living on a Boat in Vaira’o
Splash!! The bucket hit the water, filling and sinking. I tugged at the rope before it sank completely, preferring to haul it up half-full and not as heavy. The southern portion of Tahiti island loomed over the lagoon, tall and green and steep. It still tickled me pink; the media images of Tahiti had primed me to expect sand bars and white beaches.
I poured out the bucket into the plastic bin standing on a barrel by the port side of the catamaran. Gotta do the breakfast washing right away. I no longer had the navy discipline hammered into me through cadet training, but some vestiges remain.
When I was done, I tipped the bin to the side, letting the dish water spill overboard into the clear lagoon.
- Coming on board the catamaran
- Life in a Tahiti Lagoon
- What’s land for, again?
- Carbon offsetting information to Tahiti
Coming on board the catamaran
One of the things I wanted to do while in French Polynesia, was stay on a boat somehow. After all, Tahiti is known for being welcoming to voyagers, and certainly Mutiny on the Bounty comes to mind when you think about her. To this day, French Polynesia is popular with yachts.
I actually meant to seek a Workaway placement, hoping to learn sailing while I was at it. I quickly learned that sailing culture isn’t particularly inclusive. It’s one of those things where a non-Westerner would get a different experience than a Westerner. I’ll leave it at that.
So instead, I looked for unusual accommodations in Airbnb, and found an interesting catamaran host. It would be interesting to be hosted by a marine engineer, I thought. Engineers tend to be practical, logical people. He was also a New Zealander, which I hoped meant an open-minded, down-to-earth person. We should get along.
Settling into the master’s cabin
Reassuringly, Felix matched my predictions. Clearly used to guests, he made sure I provisioned beforehand at the grocery shop across the road before ferrying us back to the boat on his dinghy. Once on board, I found that I would have his own cabin while he would lodge below. The plus point of a catamaran is that there’s more space; two hulls that could become additional bunk space.
It was a nice gesture, for the captain’s cabin had the kitchen conveniently at the door, not to mention the lagoon view towards Tahiti.
After a quick but thorough induction for how to live on a boat, we sat on the front deck. Then, in the peace of the lagoon, Tahiti gave me my usual South Pacific welcome.
Ia ora na.*
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My first evening on the catamaran, my Kiwi host and I were chatting on the deck when he made a pout and pointed for me to look behind me. Behind me was the biggest rainbow I had ever seen. It was colour spilling down the slopes of Tahiti. ? #tejaintahiti #tejainpolynesia #rainbow #rainbowsofinstagram #instarainbow #pacificrainbow #southpacific #southpacificislands #southpacifictravel #southpacificisland #tahiti #lovetahiti #tahitiislands #lagoonlife #onthewater #seaviews #lagooncatamaran #pelangi #pulautahiti #pulau #traveltheworld #travelingram #travelawesome #amazingview #amazingdestination #traveltheglobe #globewanderess #sheisnotlost #femaletravelbloggers #inspiringinsightfultravel
Life in a Tahiti Lagoon
The lagoon is tranquil where we were anchored. There was not a single other yacht around. This was by design; my host did not prefer to be in a marina when he is in Tahiti.
“Why Tahiti?” I asked him, even though the answer seemed obvious from the sparkling ripples and the casting rainbows. It turned out there was a practical reason as well. Tahiti does not require anchorage fees, to anchor in its lagoons.
I did not question why he chose to anchor here, far to the south off of Vaira’o. Nor why he preferred being away from other yachts. As an introvert myself, the utter privacy in an otherwise open landscape had an obvious appeal. But I did wonder why then, did so many yachts need a marina, and how it is that he did not.
A marine engineer’s boat
“They need the electricity,” Felix explained. Pretty yachts have a lot of power-hungry electronics, and welcome the convenient connection to land-based electricity.
He should know, since his job involved fixing pretty much anything that goes wrong in cruise ships. The trend in cruise ships, apparently, is more electronics, whose enemy is salt water. Customers like stuff like boarding ramps that go up and down, even though ones that you place manually works just as well.
But more flashy features means more things going wrong, and more for a marine engineer to fix. So that’s why his own boat had almost no electronics whatsoever!
Upon realising that I am also a trained engineer, Felix proudly pointed out his solar panels and wind turbine, which further increased his independence from a marina.
“I just need to come ashore every once in a while, for fresh water.” Oh yeah. Water. But that’s why he anchored where we were. His Tahitian friend lives on the shore, and that’s where he gets water from – and social interaction.
And I thought that nothing could possibly make more sense.
Morning in the lagoon
On the very first morning, I began to wonder if six nights was too long to stay anchored in the lagoon. It had only been a few days since I left my usual city routine. Even my jet lag days in Pape’ete had been active.
But life is very simple in the lagoon. Aside from the basics of looking after your needs, the days seem identical. Reading and reflection, and swimming in the lagoon. Would I be contented?
I’ve gotten used to this anxiety by now. It always surfaces in these transitions, between these two lifestyles of mine. The day job lifestyle, in the city, a worldview that demands every hour to be scheduled, yet somehow you seem to feel further and ever further behind. And travelling slowly, which is the polar opposite.
That’s the key to slow travel, really. Dropping gears requires you to have time you don’t already know what you will do with.
At its core, slow travel is about flipping the ‘mainstream’ mindset. You simply have the time, you don’t fill it. That time is not for you to act in. It is time for nature and life to happen. For you feel your connection with it, and just flow.
How much time?
So how much time then, does a slow traveller need to spend at a place?
It isn’t any single number, for it depends on the cycle lengths there. Cities and urban modern culture have short cycles, and so you could taste it in a long weekend. But cultures that are defined by a slower pace? You’ll never see anything if you don’t match the pace, and stay long enough for its winds to turn.
So how much time then? Time enough to settle in. To savour the silence over the water, to have days listening to the fish at dusk and dawn. Time to watch the weather change and the waters respond.
Time to realise that it doesn’t matter that your plans are identical day to day. Not when the nature around you changes, in a dozen different ways to a dozen different paces, all somehow synchronised such that you can dance to it with your soul.
If you ask me? As much time as you can give, and never less than a week.
Moon rising behind southern Tahiti
The days were often magnificent in the lagoon, the sunshine glossy and hot on the decks, and clouds piling upwards against the slopes of Tahiti. But the nights were magnificent as well, when the sky was clear. Even with a full moon, the stars were innumerable and bright.
Far in the distance, you can still hear the ocean breaking against the reef. The barrier reef is the reason why the lagoon exists, and the water so calm. And on such clear, serene nights it is glassy smooth, reflecting the spill of stars. On the other side, Tahiti was a darkness in the distance, at its feet an ethereal haze, the water a matte sheen lit by the line of homes on shore.
It was in Tahiti that I saw my second moonrise. In fact, it was on my very first night. It was a gleaming brightness behind the mountains of southern Tahiti, its glow increasing with an unreal intensity that I remembered from Atacama. So this time, I knew that I was about to see the moon rising.
In Atacama, out in the dry desert, I witnessed the most beautiful sight of my life. I never expected that I would ever see such a dramatic moonrise again. Certainly not just a single year after. Watching it again – and not shivering cold this time – I could not fathom my fortune.
Rain in the lagoon
The ropes hummed loudly with the wind, sounding like engines in the distance. My first couple of days on the catamaran saw clouds smearing from the island into the lagoon. We saw rain falling on Tahiti, and I thought it was a matter of time until it rained in the lagoon as well.
Down in the head, I thought I could hear raindrops this time, but I could not yet see them fall on the hatch overhead. So I continued hand flushing the marine toilet (a method that I got used to with surprising readiness), and scampered back up and through the hatch back on deck.
Yep, there it is. It really is going to pour this time.
In fact, it was already pouring over the lagoon, in the distance. The rain was like a sheet of water that crept ever closer to the boat. I could taste water on the wind, and stood transfixed. I had never watched rain – literal rain – approach me before. It felt almost like being in an automatic car wash, except that the car wash is as large as the sky.
Batten down the hatches!
As the first drops fell on me, it kicked me into action. Batten down the hatches! Well, not really, but Felix had told me that I must make sure all hatches are closed and sealed shut in the event of rain. It’s just a lot more fun to say it the piratical way.
Felix was on shore, visiting his friend. So I scurried about the boat, sealing hatches before water could come in (much) to the spaces within. And not a moment too soon. I slipped into my cabin as torrents of rain wailed all around, pelting the deck with copious amounts of water.
Feeling safe in the security of the lagoon, I thought about the plastic sheeting that Felix had partially erected over the starboard side, yet another engineer’s project to improve his boat. He had wanted to recharge his water tanks with rain, so that he could dial down on tedious shore trips for fresh water. I guess we’ll know tomorrow if it worked.
Freshwater from the rain, fish (in theory) from the sea. Was there a more perfect home?
As if to agree, the South Pacific finished its rain concerto by casting yet another rainbow, this time on the reef horizon.
The amazing lagoon sunsets
It rained again the day after. When rain falls over the island, silt washes down from the mountains and turns the shallow lagoon a bit murky. For a short while, anyway. It doesn’t take long for the lagoon to return to its glassy, clear self.
The fact that Tahiti’s skies are not cloudless means that the sunsets are often dramatic. And you know, the best place to watch a sunset is on the water.
What’s land for, again?
By the fourth day on the boat, I could find no reason to return to land, other than to buy groceries and ice cream and stuff. Part of this is because of how complete Felix’s boat is. It was a DIY boat, and he engineered it to require minimal resources, while still covering all your creature comforts. There’s a potable water filter, and even a hot water shower.
Not that I really felt I needed a shower, when I’m in the water so often. I never understood why most people feel the need to shower with fresh water after coming out from the sea. The salt never bothered me at all; my skin felt perfectly normal either way. But perhaps it was something in my DNA, that I received from my Bugis ancestry.
Views about laundry in the lagoon
But then there was doing the laundry. I was travelling light, and would rather do some laundry before moving on to Rangiroa.
I mentioned it to Felix, and assumed it would be a simple matter of laundering with sea water. After all, it was really just to clean it. Sure, salt wouldn’t be ideal for textiles, but it wouldn’t be long until I’d wash them again. While the rain did replenish the fresh water stores (and some!), it would not be prudent to use it for laundry.
Instead, he took my laundry to shore, all the way to a laundrette in Taravao, where he did his own. Of course, the laundrette did a better job, but I hoped that he was looking for shore time anyway. Boat living was a novelty for me, but perhaps I wouldn’t be as keen after several years.
Tahitians and climate change
Land certainly has a number of resources that we need. Even for seafarers – at least eventually. One of the reasons I decided to return to the South Pacific after Easter Island, was that I knew a lot of that land would disappear with global warming and sea level rise. Kiribati, for example, is vocal about it on the world stage.
I wanted to meet the people of the Pacific who would really be affected. What is their culture like? What are their worldviews? How worried are they? How diverse are their feelings about this?
But, as far as I could learn, Tahitians are not too worried about climate change. On one of the evenings, we came upon the subject, and Felix told me his friends are sanguine about it. I wonder if it’s because Tahiti is actually quite steep, with valleys and hills.
The sentiment was, the Tuomotu atolls will definitely disappear under sea level rise, but there are other islands likely to survive. The Polynesians will simply move, as they always have.
Oh to stay! Forever and ever and ever.
In my travels I’ve been to visit people – usually city people – whose pride of place urged them to prove to me why their city is the best. From Varanasi to Melbourne, I’ve met people who truly loved their home cities, and who are convinced that I’d want to stay there for ever and ever and ever. But I didn’t.
You see, no city can ever be as free as the sea. No city has her wide horizons. In the lagoon you are within nature yet safe from her hazards. And finally, I wished I could stay forever and ever and ever.
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It was hard to leave for the next part of the journey. Hard to leave a life on the clear blue lagoon, where the horizons are speared by rainbows, and fish leaping from the water, the tall green mountains ushering a rush of freshwater from the sky, and the heavens open to a million stars. #tahiti #lovetahiti #polynesia #southpacific #tahitian #lagoonlife #atsea #seascape #oceanview #islandparadise #weatherphotos #rainbow #traveller #travel_captures #travellingthroughtheworld #wanderer #womenwhowander #wanderful_places #nature_seekers #vagabond #homeawayfromhome #onthehorizon #awesomeearth
- * Tahitian salutation, corresponding to ‘hello’
- ** Tahitian for ‘thank you’
Carbon offsetting information to Tahiti
A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Fa’a’a via Auckland produces carbon emissions of approximately 10,280 lbs CO2e. It costs about $51 to offset this.
You can certainly get some special experiences on Airbnb. It’s all a matter of using it as a slow traveller would!