Pareo? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Smile? Check. Face mask? Ah, right, there it is…
During this quite special time, I decided to strictly respect social distancing and cut myself off by heading to the Tuamotu archipelago. Some say a wild beach and an army of coconut trees help in those situations.
Of all the atolls studding the Pacific ocean, it is in Fakarava that I chose to get some fresh iodized air and a pinch of vitamin D. With his flip flops, Thierry is waiting for us in front of the airport and immediately taking us five miles away, to the charming Veke Veke guesthouse. Located by the beach, our bungalow offers a breathtaking view of the sunset and turns out to be a nice tropical haven for the city-dwellers we are. As we arrive, we decide to put on our best swimsuit and ride these bicycles we saw earlier under the fare pote’e. In our little basket, we have enough room for our monoi, a bit of cash and a bottle of water, the perfect kit of the vacationer…
Fakarava is probably the only atoll which can boast about having a large asphalt path spreading over kilometers, we call it the “Chirac road”. Named after former French president, it was made right before his arrival in the early 2000s but the funny thing is that he never came eventually. Even so, both inhabitants and Sunday cyclists are more than glad to be able to ride on such a nice road.
My long hair blowing in the wind, the pleasant smell of tiare flowers in the air, the sun beating down on our lower back, beads of sweat stooding out on our forehead, how refreshing it is to be on vacation… About three miles of straight line and yet, we enjoy each and every minute of it, we take great delight in this monotony, carried away by this feeling of freedom brushing against our skin and ruffling our hair.
We necessarily become imbued with the place we settle in and this island languor, though unusual, suddenly becomes familiar. We take our time, time to pedal off the saddle, to contemplate each fare, each garden, to stop by and say hello to…. a puppy?! Yes, plenty of furry friends live in Fakarava, they love to lay on the road and walk with you for a while. Let’s face it, on a Friday afternoon, during nap time, you are definitely the attraction of the island.
Escorted up to the outskirts of Rotoava, we head to the shop, “the one where one can buy beer”, as most people like to call it. And then we return to our bungalow, just in time to drink a glass of white wine on our terrace. Sometimes, living in the islands somehow gives you an unsuspected ingenuity, like when you roll up your bottle in a wet pareo to keep it cool… Thank me later.
Tuna tartare, breaded taro, Breton pound cake with guava marmalade, one thing is sure, there is no butter shortage in Fakarava, but it tastes so good… In Veke Veke, dinner is served at 7p.m. and, believe me, you don’t want to miss it.
The next morning, we went to the old Topaka lighthouse with our blazing beach bikes. It is quite charming, an Aztec style with a Jurassic World atmosphere. If you are right on time, perhaps will you have the chance to see it surrounded by a sunny halo. On our way home, we stop by the village to take a couple of pictures, pick some bougainvillea flowers and visit the stylish Jean de la Croix church.
After a quick lunch by the lagoon at the Kori Kori snack, it is time to lay down on our deck chairs. The lapping of the waves, the sand rolling between our toes, birds singing all around us, if you like peacefulness, you will fall for Fakarava. And I am telling so because once I sat on the beach, I realized there was no phone network… So if you want to totally disconnect and focus on the essential, you are at the right place…
On Sunday, just like in each archipelago, we eat firi firi! A usual, since we arrived, we cut a good slice of bread with butter and cheese and taste one or two croissants with marmalade, except that today, there are some homemade donuts and korori (oyster meat)!
Once we are full, we embark for a 1h30 crossing, heading to the South pass. Hugging the coast, we try to avoid the big black clouds, ride around the coral heads but it is finally time to put on our gorgeous yellow raincoats to take a tropical shower – Special mention if you are located at the front of the boat. These adventures make the whole ride even more fun and once we take off our hood, we discover a great fringe of coconut trees and a beaming sun.
With a fresh coconut in hand, we set foot on the famous pink-sand beaches of Fakarava, as our captain goes fishing our lunch with his harpoon. Crystal-clear waters, fine sand, tiny islets gently spread over the lagoon, it is impossible not to capture the moment. After having splashed around for a while, we head to the Tetamanu village to taste this parrot fish we have heard about. Coconut bread, some sausages and a bit of rice and all we need to do is find a shady spot for our picnic.
Afterwards, we put on our snorkeling gear and go with the current in the middle of the Tumakohua pass. This refreshing break gives us the opportunity to observe the mauve corals behind which colorful schools of fish wiggle: humphead wrasses, parrotfish, surgeonfish, moorish idols and when you look deep down, tens of grey reef sharks.
Of this stay, I will forever remember the heat of the sun on my skin, the taste of salt water, the smell of freshly caught fish, the peace of mind and the benevolence of Paumotu people.