Yorana! (Pronounced YO-RAH-NA and means hello in Tahitian). I am writing from my over-water bungalow in Raiatea, French Polynesia. It feels as if I have been living in an indescribable dream these past two weeks, but I will do my best to bring my experiences back to reality for you all.
We began our journey on the island of Tahiti and quickly dove (no pun intended) into the native Tahitians’ culture and lifestyle. The people here seem to enjoy every second of life. We quickly learned that there are no dangerous wild animals on any of the islands, except for a wild pig here and there. A native also told us that there has only been one shark attack off the coast in the past 20 years… I’ve been praying that he wasn’t kidding.
French Polynesia is known for its rare black pearls that are sold and produced here; however, a unique connection to the Mississippi River creates them. The oyster shell from the bottom of the Mississippi is transported over to The French Polynesia where it is seeded into the polynesian oysters and then grown in pearl farms for over 18 months.
While in Tahiti, we also explored the inner parts of the island. We hiked through the depths of the Tahitian forests as our barefoot guide led the way— machete in hand— to a roaring waterfall that had a pool deep enough for us to swim and cool off in.
The island of Moorea was our next stop. We became true islanders when we were assigned to our huts complete with no air conditioning, partially open roofs and mosquito nets that hung from the ceiling to sleep in. Things started to get even more real when I swam with wild stingrays for the first time in my life.
Besides learning about the Polynesian lifestyle, our class traveled here to study astronomy. Our professor has shown us things in the sky I have never dreamed of. Last night, we got to see the Large Magellanic Cloud, a companion galaxy to our Milky Way that is about 187,000 light years away.
After Moorea, we traveled to Bora Bora: the island of blue skies, blue water and honeymooners. While in Bora Bora, we ventured out into the crystal-clear water of the South Pacific and swam with more stingrays and black tip sharks. The sharks were a little too close for comfort at first, but after awhile, I felt like I could see a new friendship blooming. We then had lunch on a motu, an island of an island, and afterwards swam with more stingrays, sharks, sea turtles and tropical fish. Some of us even rode a Lemon shark by grabbing its dorsal fin and holding on until you needed air.
Now, we have finally arrived on the island of Raiatea where we will conclude our trip learning about the astronomy of the southern skies and the Polynesian people. Hopefully there are no shark bites to come. Manuia! (MA-NEW-YAH, Cheers!)
Anne Becken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.