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dimanche 8 novembre 2015

Islands, between the sky and sea



From sea to land

Yes, the most incredible pictures of Polynesia are those aerial photographs which offer us hallucinating shades in blue and transparencies palette.

Yes, indeed, these are the same pictures that tourists discover in the 21st century when they are lucky enough to day land on Tahiti. However…

All the beauty of an island...
Yet that's by sea where an island must be accosted because it shows off itself thus in all its serenity, its fragility, its harshness, its violence and so, all its beauty.

From sails to wings...
It's by sea that the first inhabitants of our islands, Ma'ohi ancestors on their fabulous travel sail outrigger dugouts, discovered these unknown lands... Very many centuries later, it’s also by sea, and after many months of very difficult navigation, that, the first Westerners set eyes on what they didn't hesitate to describe as "paradise on earth"...

The first American planes arrive in Bora Bora... by sea!
The first aircrafts to land on the Polynesian countries belong to the US army, in Bora Bora from 1942 to 1946. From them, follows an ocean of ​​aerial photographs, all to the glory of our lagoons and our islands, all of which reinforce the Polynesian myth born of Cook's and Bougainville's travels (among others)...

The Polynesian islands by advertising views
Nevertheless: it's always by sea, that the truth of the Polynesian islands are more available to the traveler wanting to not be trapped by an inevitably misleading leaflet, because obnoxiously simplistic...

From swell to the reef...
Whatever the ship on which you are embarked -liner, schooner (Polynesian passenger-cargo ship), luxury yacht, gold plater, fragile skiff or trip-sailboat, approaching an island still suggests the same fascinating show...

Blue, blue, and again blue...
First there is this infinite curve line, around us totally, parting just the blue from the blue. Whatever the movements of the boat, wherever we look away, it's always there, unbroken:  alone the clouds, white horses of foam and the crest of the waves...

And lost in the heart of the skyline, in the middle of the greatest among the oceans, it may happen that this feeling of being nothing and nowhere lasts for days, nights, and days over and over...

When the ocean makes up the horizon...
Yet inevitably comes that moment out of time when any sailor rubs his eyes to be sure not to be the victim of a mirage: a tiny portion of the horizon seems thicker, like makeup, highlighted by a brown line... As a hyphen in the middle of a blue line: the Earth!

Finally: an island...

Before the sailor, the birth of an island...
Hour by hour, the line is going to thicken, turn into relief picture, become more accurate. Then it will to rise, expand and become colors. Slowly the earth begins to take shape, to lose its even color, this brown one sprung from blue and to adorn itself with green and ocher... Before our very eyes, from the womb of the ocean, is given birth to an island.

Into the depths of each of us, the excitement of a next landing begins to give the crew a shake. However, we aren’t at the end of our surprises...

Child of water: a dreaming silhouette

Between the island and us, a strange white line seems to get in our way...

From the open sea to the lagoon...
As a brow puckered on the ocean, an eye of life on the surface of the large liquid desert, the island appears now as resting on a white line...

From blue to blue, the colors of the dream...
By moving closer on the rhythm of the waves, the white line thickens and separates from the sea-mountain, unveiling a new chromatic wonder. "Blue, again! ", according to you... Yes, a blue palette, shimmering in other flat tints. Without a ripple, without a hitch...

Between itself and us, the island has developed its defenses. How to cross the reef without tearing the hull of our skiff? How to blend in with the blue shades finally reaching these dreamed beaches but still invisible?

Where is the portal, opened to the tranquility of the lagoon?
Along the awash bulwark of the coral reef, we are won by the fear of discover any flaw. Solitary motu *, as strange rafts hatted with rare coconuts, are flush... Dreams of deserted islands, escaped the few adventures of Robinson Crusoe, draw an oneiric dashed line on the real reef.

While hoping at least reach the coast is shrinking every moment, a crack in the foam line tears us from the torpor: the reef is opened, an entry is offered to us, the lagoon isn't longer a dream but a protected haven from swell...

The long-awaited pass...
Therefore remains to cross the pass so unveiled.

Move away the reef a bit, point the stem of the boat to the lagoon so hoped, pinpoint a rocky outcrop well drawn on the blue sky at the top of the island, take it as bitter and ride the wind swell for finally caressing the blue dream...

Blues that will make you doubt your eyes...
High tide, the current urges us fairly well between coral fingers. The boat stabilizes, we reduce the canvas and slow down the pace, slipping almost on its way, amazed by the magic of the place: a new range of translucent blues now. On sandy bottoms, sometimes strange shapes in orange hues, almost red, are straying up in dark shadows... After all protected, we are on the lagoon...

From the lagoon up to the earth...
 “Helm hard-a-starboard…!”

This howl loaded of anguish comes breaking the wonder. As long as the anchor isn't dropped into a white sandy bottom close to the beach, we will be in danger: the fabulous brown and ocher mass of coral heads ("coral potatoes") dangerously threatens the integrity of the hull. We must at all costs avoid them.

But where is the channel…?
Moreover it's also necessary to move away as much as possible from the clearest water areas, at the risk of running aground on a sandbar... Browse a few cable lengths away that still separates us from the beach is far more dangerous than slip on the long and powerful Pacific swell...

Put a little bit of canvas, a man at the helm, another at the bow with a sounding line, good eyes and a strong voice to prevent about rocks and shoals... At hand, the beach never seemed so distant...

At closer to the lagoon labyrinth 
The clearness of the water gives us the sensation of flying over canyons drawn by coral heads. Fabulous landscape which alas fear of sinking prevents us from appreciating its true extent. And every time we dare to take our eyes off the seabed, the coast is proving a little more...

Three or four dozen fathoms from us, the water becomes transparent and highlights an unbelievably sandy beach of dazzling white; it changes from incredible lagoon blues to plenty improbable greens. This time there it is: the horizon got lost...

At last arrived...
It's time to drop anchor.
Once the boat well secured at rest on its moorings, embedded on our dinghy, we are sailing the last fathoms towards dryland...

From beach to mountain
...Dazzled by the violent white sand, we need some time to get used to walking on solid ground again.

...And in a few moments, the first steps on the island...
Our lifeboat moored, our amazed eyes forget a moment the white beach and the green rainforest to find again the blue of which we just go out: first those of the lagoon, then those more dark of the ocean and finally those speckled sky with orphan clouds.

Around ten meters away from the place of our landing, a river emerges from the forest and languidly through the beach to dilute without fuss into the blue lagoon. A sweet and fresh water, almost cold, shamelessly is licking the feet of a few misguided mape amidst coconut trees.

A river: the path to the heart of the island...
No path along the banks. The urge to ascend this river to the interior of the island, therefore requires us to take off our shoes...

On three or four hundred meters at most, the river is lazing and stretches, stroking gardens and fare ** flooded with flowers and trees. But things change quickly...

From blue to green...
Around us, the valley narrows. The river bed has nothing indolent and we're having to look up now to even taste the blue sky. The rainforest growing in height, as if to fight against the vertiginous peaks that dominate us as we continue to climb, slipping on the black stones of the stream bed.

The blue universe of the sky and lagoon, forgotten: now we drown in a sea of ​​green. The heat is stifling here, oozing, boring. We have, without realizing it, swapped our Robinson's costumes for those of a group of Indiana Jones, in search of some unknown insular diamond...

Slowly, the canopy ousts the sky blue...
Above us the forester dome is closed. We are moving in a clammy darkness where the blue completely disappeared. The rustle of the alizé in the canopy becomes pervasive, even deafening.

This noise isn't only the wind: there is something else, but what?
We go on walking. The slope mellows and vegetation changes, becomes sparse, even if the sky is always hidden by the foliage. We are now in a mape forest and can finally leave the river bed: again walk on land.

Along the river, the path we are following now continues to rise. In this hot and sweaty atmosphere we keep on our progress, bundled up in this sort of unremitting rumble getting louder...

The white waters, an offering of the mountain
Here, the muddy path skirting a rocky outcrop is covered with a thick foam of an amazing dark green... A few more steps and here we are frozen in a state of amazement and wonder!

From land to water...
The forest is behind us. Before our incredulous looks, impressive cliffs, torn by turbulent waters, are gushing tens of meters above our heads...

When the mountains weep life
A multitude of rainbows in the sky arise from the spume; and the water, all this water, soft and fresh, collapses into a kind of small lake that seems to wait for our good will, to relieve us finally fatigue and  heat of our ascent.

In the iridescent arms of the island...
Immersed in this miraculous water, we raise our head and realize finally what place that hugged us.

Above us, black carvings on the blue of the sky, mountains, and steep peaks seem completely inaccessible. No doubt that they are so.

Thus, the island forever keeps its secrets...
One thing is certain: we are at the heart of the island...




Glossary:
* Motu: islet, land mass on the reef of an atoll.
** Fare: traditional house of Polynesia

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak


Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.




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