The Jimmy Buffet playlist is a cliché. But this week I choose to embrace the cliché. We are coming off the first week of vacation. A thunderstorm is just breaking up with the same suddenness by which it arrived. A few sailboats – sails down - are still staggering back to the harbor, twenty minutes too late to beat the weather. I would say they should just as well turn around and set sail again at this point, but the gray clouds hugging close to the ocean promise more rain to come.
We – or, in reality, my wife – chose French Polynesia for our trip. You know she picked the location because we are not lost in the middle of Oregon looking for rocks. This is a fifteen year anniversary trip, delayed a year due to my father’s illness. Twenty years would be a more accurate accounting, in my opinion, but that is a different story. We took the kids; we have not vacationed alone in five years, and I suspect that trip will not happen for another five years. C’est la vie, as they say here.
We traveled for three days to get to our first real day of vacation. One day and three planes to get from Eugene to Los Angeles. It is easier to get to Los Angeles from New York than Eugene. Yet another story. But eventually we set down on the island of Huahine and were greeted by our hosts for the week, Kim and Walter, owners of Au Motu Mahare.
A quick stop at the grocery store delivered my first lesson in Island Economics – the shelves were bare of baquettes. We arrived too late. The price of banquettes is fixed here. So too is everything thing that seems to disappear if you don’t arrive early, like eggs. I know an effective price ceiling when I see one. I should have seen this coming, of course, when I tried to find information on 3G service, only to find a terribly unhelpful website by the local monopoly telecom provider. After shopping we boarded a small boat for a short trip across a turquoise lagoon.
There are plenty of places in French Polynesia that serve as thinly-veiled mechanisms to separate you from your money. Au Motu Mahare is not one of those places. But you need to be the right kind of traveler to appreciate the experience, which most would define as upscale camping. If you need nightly turn-down service, this isn’t the place for you.
Perfect for us. Perfect for the economist always counting pennies already wary about this trip. The economist constantly reminding himself: Fifteen year anniversary. Or twenty, depending on who is counting.
Two fares, or one-room guest huts, with thatched roofs and sand floors, serve as accommodations:
The mosquitos are not bad at all, although you should take that observation with a grain of salt; I grew up with summer fishing trips in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. The two rooms share a separate bathroom and kitchen (you need to prepare your own food in French Polynesia, or else you will go broke quickly eating out). Solar panels supply the power, and rainwater serves for washing dishes and people. Cooking water comes from the main island, and guests bring their own drinking water. Each night Walter lights a fire of coconuts husks and ironwood that serves as a grill.
The location is truly amazing, perfect if you are seeking solitude. The motu is narrow, and it is easy to access both the lagoon
Our kids thought they were in heaven. Warm water and an endless supply of nature to explore. Kim and Walter’s family includes their four year old daughter, so they even had a friend to play with. As would be expected, we saw more types of fish than we could count, plus plenty of colorful clams, manta rays, and even saw two moray eels up close. A short kayak trip away lays a pearl farm sitting on a wonderful reef that drops off quickly for an easy deep water snorkeling trip. The water was so clear that just sitting on the dock afforded ample views of the aquatic menageri.
The fishing was a bit more hit and miss. More miss, at least for me. Walter provided me a pole and directed me to deep water where fish are reportedly caught by others. After multiple excursions that yielded not a single bite, Walter took pity on me and took me trolling in the lagoon. We used handcasters – a spool of line that you let out and, hopefully, you pull the fish in hand over hand – baited with squid shaped lures. Apparently, fishing here is like everywhere else. Some days they jump in the boat. Other days the fish sit below and laugh at you. This was one of the latter days, which made me feel a little bit better about not catching anything on my earlier forays into the lagoon. After two hours, however, we managed to bring in two fish, a barracuda (my catch) and a jack fish. We tossed them on the grill for dinner that night:
The only disappointment was to learn that the reef suffered from the classic tragedy of the commons problem. Clams and the local lobster-like crustacean were overfished. Some regulations exist on the books, but not in practice. I am told a common attitude is that “if I don’t take it, someone else will.” Also, littering is common; apparently the belief is that the ocean will wash everything away. There is no recycling. In short, the green movement has yet to hit this island with full force.
A small tragedy occurred when my daughter slipped in the water and grabbed onto a sea urchin. Don’t do that. It hurts. A lot. Like being stung by five bees at once. Now we stay far away from the aptly re-named “poky balls.”
Bottom Line: For the budget-conscious traveler looking to get away from it all in French Polynesia, Au Motu Mahare is an excellent choice. You won’t be disappointed.