Canadian Geographic - - TAHITI -

EX­PLORE THE UNIQUE ge­og­ra­phy, his­tory and beauty of New­found­land and Labrador on Cana­dian Ge­o­graphic Ed­u­ca­tion’s first

provin­cial Gi­ant Floor Map.

This re­source is now avail­able free of charge to all schools in New­found­land and Labrador.

washed up, 2,000 kilo­me­tres to the south­east — but Fakar­ava, my last stop in Poly­ne­sia, feels con­spic­u­ously re­mote and ex­empt, per­haps, from the con­straints of cal­en­dars and clocks. The sec­ond-largest is­land of the Tuamotu ar­chi­pel­ago, Fakar­ava is a 60-kilo­me­tre sill of coral en­clos­ing a la­goon vivid with aquatic colour and in­ci­dent. Now part of a UNESCO bio­sphere re­serve, it saw its first Euro­pean vis­i­tor in 1820 when the Rus­sian ex­plorer Fabian Got­tlieb von Belling­shausen sailed in and dubbed it Wittgen­stein. The name didn’t take. For most of the hour-long flight east from Pape’ete, it’s only ocean stretched be­low, mid­night blue now, and calm as car­pet. When the first of the Tuamo­tus ap­pear, they look like bleached, lonely bones. “So nar­row, so bar­ren, so be­set with sea,” Robert Louis Steven­son wrote when he stayed on Fakar­ava in 1888. It’s true that af­ter the fer­tile, lofty moun­tain­scapes of the So­ci­ety Is­lands, Fakar­ava, al­most level with the Pa­cific en­clos­ing it, does at first pre­sent a flat, blanched aus­ter­ity. Walk­ing the long shift­ing coral beach at Passe Garuae or rid­ing a bike along Fakar­ava’s sin­gle rib­bon of paved road, you feel its ex­po­sure to sun, wind and ocean. But Fakar­ava is greener than it first ap­pears, fes­tooned, even, in places, with frangi­pani and he­liotrope. A tow­er­ing san­dal­wood tree pre­sides over the cen­tre of Ro­toava, Fakar­ava’s main vil­lage, like a benev­o­lent, all-see­ing el­der. To get my bear­ings, I en­list a lo­cal guide, Enoha, who makes do with just the one name. An af­fa­ble, 50-some­thing painter who also sculpts drift­wood and whale­bone, he tours me from one end of the atoll to the other, stop­ping to com­ment on ev­ery­thing from pre-euro­pean set­tle­ment, mod­ern-day air­port lore, sol­dier­bushes, iron­wood trees, a fruit called sour­sop and the var­i­ous uses for the leaves and bark of the bread­fruit tree (a pow­er­ful an­tiox­i­dant and an ex­cel­lent glue for patch­ing ca­noes, re­spec­tively) For sup­per that night I stop by the Pen­sion Pa­parara, 20 min­utes from Ro­toava along the la­goon shore by bike. Over grilled par­rot­fish and a carpac­cio of mother-of-pearl, I get talk­ing to Jan Calta, a Czech pro­gram­mer in his 30s who’s on his sec­ond visit to Fakar­ava, and spend­ing as much of it as pos­si­ble un­der water. “You’re not div­ing?” he won­ders. He’s ask­ing for him­self, prob­a­bly, but maybe also on be­half of com­mon sense. Fakar­ava is renowned in scuba cir­cles, sev­eral of which I’ll drift into, con­ver­sa­tion­ally, while I’m here on dry land around sup­per­time. The word is that with the con­di­tions and the rich seal­ife, what we’ve got right here is some of the best div­ing any­where in the world. I tell Calta what I’m telling ev­ery­body: Matisse snorkelled. Paul Gau­guin is the French painter who’s most closely as­so­ci­ated with Tahiti (he’s buried on Hiva Oa, sec­ond-largest of the Mar­que­sas Is­lands, 1,000 kilo­me­tres to the north­east), but Matisse came for a visit, too, in 1930. He ac­quired wooden gog­gles, and though he hadn’t been well, there he was pad­dling around in the la­goon, mar­vel­ling at the un­der­sea light, which he called “a sec­ond sky.” Though he stayed for just four days, the ex­pe­ri­ence soaked deep. Ev­ery­body should come to Fakar­ava, he felt. He wasn’t paint­ing, but he was draw­ing and writ­ing — and pon­der­ing colours. I’m not sur­prised to learn, later, of his de­sire to dis­till the essence of what he was see­ing in these south­ern seas. The pre­dom­i­nant shade, he even­tu­ally de­cided, is the lam­bent blue of the mor­pho but­ter­fly’s wing — his own favourite colour. “Blue, but such a blue!” Matisse wrote. “It pierced my heart.”

Fakar­ava feels CON­SPIC­U­OUSLY RE­MOTE AND EX­EMPT, per­haps, from the re­straints of CAL­EN­DARS AND CLOCKS.

Read more about Tahiti’s rum, pearl and vanilla in­dus­tries at can­geo­

A group of swim­mers pad­dle their way across a la­goon near Moorea.

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