*This is what most of my days looked like. Every society island has one main road that goes around the island with not much on either side other than a strip of land that prevents access to mountains on one side, and ocean on the other.
It has been difficult to describe my experience of the French Polynesia to my friends and family. One of the barriers is the mysticism that surrounds the idea of the French Polynesia is so deeply rooted in our subconscious. This is the very reason I proposed a project for the colonial territories but I find in describing my experiences I either talk too much about the hardships in my experience and what I saw, or I can't get people out of the faraway, dreamy idea of the fantasy.
*Cooks Bay in Moorea.
It's been getting easier especially now that I have my own perspective on what the experience was. One of the first things that I have to remind people is that I didn't go on vacation. I woke up before dawn to catch the early morning light and try to get a few working hours in before the crushing heat and humidity took over. I spent a lot of time (I mean 4-6 hours a day) walking, and biking around looking for places to take pictures. 90% of the time it was chasing a mirage because the view of the mountain, valley, or waterfall were too far for a picture, but close enough to taunt me to go a little further, just over this next hill, just around this curve, just up this funny little road.
*This is a pamplemousse (french for grapefruit) farm in the hills of Moorea.
Most of the time there is no way to see the ocean or get up into the mountains. It is maddening when you're in the extreme heat of the day, you've been walking for hours, the town that you were counting on to replenish your supplies has nothing, and you can smell the ocean but there is no way to get to it. Instead, you keep walking. A few times I went on a tour in order to see different sites. In these instances the tour was the only way to gain access to the area. It was interesting to meet people who were actually on vacation and hear what their impressions of the place was from behind the walls of the resorts.
*The beaches at the resorts come from the coral gardens on the sea floor because there are almost no actual beaches. This is on Bora Bora
That being said. The place is so truly different then anything on this side of the world. It is nothing like the Caribbean at all. The air is thick and smells like gardenia, jasmine, vanilla, and campfire. Palm leaves, remnants of coconut shells, and other brush are all piled neatly and then slowly burned. It is so moist all of the time that it really just smokes and you never see any actual fire.
*This is a farm valley on the island of Nuku Hiva.
The French Polynesia is described as a culture of beauty. Even the men wear bright floral (yes as in hawaiian) shirts or pareos. The women all have long hair and wear floral crowns for special occasions. Flowers are planted everywhere they will grow and they offer a pleasant contrast along the road.
*There were a lot of chickens.
Steep mountains, cliffs, and valleys were all created by volcanos. This gives the islands a spectacular mountain line. I couldn't make much sense of until it was explained to me that because there is no lime stone, the land is very soft and some of the landsides in the past were so large that it created a whole new smaller mountain line.
*This is in the Valley of Kings in Tahiti. It is a favorite for locals because of the cool spring coming from the mountain
Most of the islands are protected from the huge, wild Pacific with large reef rings where sand builds up into mini islands called motu's. You can watch dolphins play in the bays. Rainbows are common because it might rain two or three times a day during their wet season. This makes large magical clouds with dramatic lighting in the mornings and evenings. Anywhere that you can get into the ocean you can see coral, fish, eels, sting rays at night.
The French Polynesia was a definitely a once in a life time experience that has forever altered the way that I see the world. It was the first time that I went somewhere that is so different in every physical and cultural aspect. As a project about confronting the fantasy and reality of the exotic, I don't think that I could have profiled a better place to research.