Ra’iatea Through Suzi’s Eyes

I’m “confined to quarters bt Suzi is free to come and go. The last two days she was able to get off the ship to visit Ra’iatea. For me it was going to be a snorkeling stop but Suzi took a different tack. Here are excerpts from her letter to the family and some pictures.

The first change in itinerary only sort of counts… they made it before we left so that we all knew that it was going to happen.  Initially we were to stop in Bora Bora, but they’ve set new rules that won’t allow ships of over a certain size to stop there, which we are, so we moved on with two days in Ra’iatea.  While pretty much everyone on board is sad about missing Bora Bora, we’d be a bit hypocritical if we made too much of a fuss as Rich is trying to get Sitka to do the same thing.  Bora Bora is a magical island (actually visible in the distance from the ship deck) surrounded by a lagoon, making for wonderful snorkeling with very colorful fish.

              Ra’iatea is also surrounded by lagoon, but has no real beaches.  I’m guessing that there’s also a good many pretty fish, but they’re harder to get to.  The hotels reportedly have diving rafts and one friend has leased a boat to take him out to swim off the coral reefs.  

We’re able to pull up to a decent dock (so walk on/off without worrying about tenders) in a cute little town, maybe three blocks long.   Our room overlooks the town so we can watch all the harbor activities.  The front of the ship is “in town” with a lovely park with a couple of gazebo-looking buildings (or rather roofs as they don’t have enough wall to be a building) and aft… from our room back, is a small group of warehouses with trucks collecting packages of stuff for distribution throughout the island.

The signs are all in French, so I have a lot of guessing along with my shopping.  Most of the stores along the shopping street are the “general store” type of thing (like the store in Marine or many that I shopped at in Belgrade) with an interesting assortment of things beyond what you’d expect from the front window, but each with a different type of assortment.  You live here, you know where to get what you need.  While you can get luggage in one grocery store, I found ceramic rice bowls and plastic toddler riding toys in another.  The hardware store was very heavily into marine supplies (or maybe that one I have backward with a marine supply store selling land-based hardware stuff and small appliances.)  The pharmacy sold shoes and baby clothes, but no Nyquil.  There don’t seem to be many “tourist” stores (though the fabric store was pretty much only the floral prints associated with Polynesia), but they do put things that tourists might want to buy up front… and close for a two-hour lunch break.  The town seems to empty at 5 and everyone goes home for dinner, even with the ship tied up at their downtown doorstep.  I also discovered a “sun-tent city” that went up the other side of the market (we don’t need their bananas) on our second day here (perhaps they didn’t know about the extra day?) selling shell jewelry and Tahitian wraps.

We’re in Uturoa, the big city of the pair of islands that live inside one atoll, but Ra’itea is somewhere around 13,000 people (so “big” is relative) and I watch the trucks but hear the roosters crowing.  It’s the hot/rainy season and, no surprise, it’s hot and muggy and only the tourists took note of the rain the first morning… all morning.  We were supposed to have a thunder storm at about 3, but that failed to materialize.  It’s all so very much like our summer in Taiwan, minus the neighborhood water buffalo.

Rich discovered that about 12% of French Polynesia is of Chinese origin, so I guess I wasn’t too surprised to find that they are still celebrating the Chinese New Year.  Here there are at least two groups with firecrackers and big drums and a “lion” to dance.  The ones with a red “lion” are sporting what seems to be t-shirts from some local philanthropic organization.  The ones with a white “lion” have t-shirts that say “Bora Bora.”  Have they come to the bigger island to show off???  I ran into both with their support troops on the sidewalks and the “lions” dancing into stores, seemingly to the delight of the folks who work the stores.   After lunch I spotted two red “lions” dancing under the gazebo in front of the ship.  Is this a third group? (are they having a convention?) or an additional dancer added to the first one?  In any event, I’m glad not to be the back half of the “lion.” 

Going back out Tuesday I was blessed with stopping in a clothing store as the Bora Bora group were setting up.  They still have a white “lion” but have added a red one as well.  The principal dancers are adults (maybe 30?) but several of the “handlers” are teens, one with some English so I know that they actually are from Bora Bora. When they came down from upstairs it was very clear why so many handlers (other than I suspect they’re dancers in training.)  They have to back down, and there are no eyes in back of the head.  

I learned that the shops that are interested in having a “dragon” visit put “food” for it out; this store had lettuce and onions hanging from the entryway and a basket of oranges on the ground (added after I went into the store) and the grocery next door had branches from an orange tree hanging by the “in” door.  The young man calls their “lion” a “dragon” but there’s only the two dancers with no further tail and no golden orb to follow, so I’ll stick with what I know and it’s a lion dance.  Call them whatever, these guys have worked out a tremendous amount of coordination.  Part of the set-up included a child (maybe 5 or 6) waiting patiently on a stool (next to the ice cream) in gold pajama style suit with a “hat” that was maybe 18 inches across with a two or three foot long piece of fabric tail.  Once they came into the store the child did his best to keep up with the adult dancers.  I suppose it’s possible that it’s a father/son, but I think it more random.  Whoever he was, he was clearly playing with the little boy.

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