My return to enigmatic Moorea

Islands and archipelagos – Short story: My return to enigmatic Moorea forty years after.

Old good times now seem so far away… I mean these antic times where the schooners « Maire » and « Niumaru » were assuring the connection between Tahiti and enigmatic Moorea… Moorea the neighboring island, so close yet so different, so close and yet so far… I still can see its cut-out silhouette standing out on the horizon when we waited on the quays of the Papeete harbor before embarking. I still can see the sailors working on the docks … I can clearly see them embarking all sorts of things: packets of fish and fruits, boxes of tin and even antique pickup trucks that went on board rolling on two wooden boards of 20 centimeters wide …

Moorea, my beloved island, my cherished memories, my regrets, my childhood, my secret garden … I have secretly kept the memory of you in the depths of that child’s broken heart of mine… I was forced to leave you forever at the age of 12 and this simply dismantled my young heart… It had been a deep sorrow, a terrible grief and even some kind of a “little death” that I never recovered from … Since then, I have been carrying in my soul the mark of my happy days with you and the quiet strength you gave me, as a love legacy for the rest of my life …

And this is so true: In all the tough moments that I have been encountering in my long life, Moorea has been bringing me the quiet and yet so powerful comfort of the vision of its luminous and tranquil auroras… I remember their amazingly tender light giving the impression of posing some strange and deep peace over waves… the profound peace of those days that neither the anguish of tomorrow nor the obsession of the future were haunting… Under the vermilion-red caress of the sunshine, the waves were liberating silvery forms of either “marara” (flying fish), or paihere (trevallies) or hunting oe’o (cane beak fish). Almost always, the naughty dolphins were accompanying our canoe escapades to the lagoons passes… In our fragile skiffs, my brother and I saw one another the Queen Mary’s commanding officer and his second-in-command, maneuvering this majestic ship on exiting the Papeete harbor, all sirens howling, sailing back to distant England…

And here I am, back in Moorea 40 years later… On that island of my dearest memories, in Moorea this sister island of Tahiti that made me the man I am today … The ferry enters the Bay of Vaiare which doesn’t seem to have changed that much. My god, the crossing time is now so short compared to formerly! Only 30 minutes, while the schooner “Maire” took 2h30 to the bay of Pao-Pao, in the seventies … The port of Vaiare looks very big and it is very animated, but always in that cool and friendly atmosphere, so characteristic of Tahiti and her islands.

And then it’s the road beneath the impatient two wheels of my rental scooter … I drive slowly so as not to lose anything of the scenery and scenes that are offered to me. The bitumen seems to run under my wheels, like a ribbon … And I cannot believe it, remembering that the road was in coral gravels at the time of my childhood … Well, no more dust, no more skidding, no more bumps, no more holes! No, a real safe and pleasant road because it only requires normal attention … There are quite a lot of cars but the traffic remains very fluid. There were only 20 or 30 cars on the island in the early seventies… I remember that when we stopped to talk to someone, we stayed in the middle of the road because we were sure not to disturb anyone…. Also, when we crossed the road on foot, we did not look around before, for we relied on the sound only: If we did not hear anything, then it meant that there was no car and then we crossed …

Tears untimely invade my eyes when rediscovering the majestic charm of the Cook and Opunohu bays. Both of these iconic bays offer a stunning scenery with the omnipresent impression that the sharp peaks of the surrounding mountains directly plunge into the sea … It is 5 PM and the summit of Mount Mou’a Puta gets iridescent adorning itself with this small veil of clouds of which I had forgotten the dazzling pastel beauty … Then I climb the scenic Belvedere road with the hope of meeting again with my fetish view from the summit. And here it is… The view is simply breathtaking as it always has been: The two bays in panoramic, an incredible beauty made of quietness and of absolute … Nothing seems to have changed and the emotions of the fifty years old guy I am today are definitely not less intense than those that I had experienced at the age of 12, when contemplating these extraordinary landscapes …

I continue to drive towards Haapiti and little by little, I realize that despite my fear of being disappointed, the changes that I see do not disturb my memories at all. On the contrary, they complement and beautify them, for all that evolved in Moorea did it rightly and for the good, preserving the harmonies that always have made the charm of the island: much more houses, it is true… But they all are clean, tidily arranged by the side of the road, nestled in gardens lovingly maintained that offer a glimpse of a floral colors farandole, while releasing so incredibly subtle perfumes; so sweet that you can’t refrain from stopping by the road side to breathe them, eyes closed… And again, my mind flies to the past remembering that there were only 5 hotels here in 1975: In Haapiti, there was the famous “Club Med”, the “Fare Gendron” and the “Moana”. Maharepa was home to the Bali Hai and its magnificent pontoon perched on the emerald waters of the lagoon. In the bay of Pao-Pao, there was the “Hotel Eimeo”. Finally, in Afareaitu, there was an adorable boarding-house called “chez Pauline” … I’m learning that there are currently over a hundred hotels and boarding-houses in Moorea, of which half a dozen of luxury resorts! I wonder where they are, as the road all around the island seems not to have changed… well, except for the asphalt itself …

Then I decide to take the crazy risk of getting my memories ruined by venturing into the premises of these large hotels that have settled on the coast along the last past 10 years… On entering the car parks of Sofitel, Pearl Beach, Manava Beach, Intercontinental and Hilton, I each time close my eyes fearing about the moment I will have to reopen them … But no, there are only lush gardens carefully maintained. The beach bungalows are amazingly beautiful, so much nicer than those of the old “Club Med” which yet were a must in my child’s eyes. The overwater bungalows harmoniously stand out on the lagoon horizon. They perfectly fit with the landscape that they even contribute to improve, thanks to their contribution in terms of refinement and typically Polynesian elegance…

I’m having a drink in the bar of the Intercontinental to recover from the strong emotions of the day. The panoramic view over the lagoon takes me beyond the enchantment … It is simply magnificent… Finally, this return did not result in making me lose my precious memories about “the” Moorea of my childhood. Today, there are even many more wonders that perpetuate the magic of this island, as Moorea obviously made the wise decision of “living its time while remaining out of time” … Indeed, a long time has passed in Moorea leaving only beautiful traces … Of course, there are much more hotels than formerly, more things to do and see. But the essential is always here and has not changed … The mana (“spirit” in Maohi language) of Moorea is still here, we feel it shudder in that gentle breeze which always accompanies the sunset … I feel so reassured and happy: the island that I have kept in my heart for forty years can remain in my heart quietly, until the end of times … For I feel that the Moorea beaches still bear the footprints left by the child I have been…

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