The wind wasn’t blowing when we arrived at Raiatea last Sunday. Just the opposite: the air was still, thick and greasy and oven hot. We motored most of the way from Huahine, 25 miles across a glassy but rolling sea. Our stomachs rolled too; suddenly we’ve lost our sea legs now that we’ve anchored behind coral reefs for the past month or so. Just like on our overnight trip to Huahine from Moorea, the girls slept while Michael and I put our faces out in the fresh air and snacked on Mexican saltines.
We figured we’d head to Uturoa, the main town on Raiatea first to get our bearings. Our guidebooks and the SV Soggy Paws Compendium warned that anchoring was difficult since it was very deep right near the town but we thought we’d check it out anyway. We were surprised to see a long, nearly-empty quay right in front of the town with two other boat friends already tied up. Our fenders and mildewy lines were on our starboard side lickity split and we tied Wondertime up alongside too.
It’s always interesting to arrive at a new area with no expectations whatsoever and watch the place unfold. We hadn’t intended on stopping at Raiatea at all since our French Polynesia time is running short but thought it would be a nice stopover on our way to Bora Bora. It turns out that it’s free to stay on the quay here, and with strong SE winds in the 25-35 knot range predicted in the coming days we figured it was an excellent place to let the wind mellow a bit before we move on.
Uturoa is a sleepy town. We could tell that it wasn’t always so: there is a grand pier for cruise ships to tie to, covered in acres of hand-laid stones. There is also a lovely tropical park with a Polynesian stage for passengers to view a welcome dance, a large outdoor mall with restaurants and pearl shops. Only it’s clear that there hasn’t been a ship here in a long, long time: most of the shops are empty, the paint is peeling from the building sides, the lights taken down from the lampposts. Even the restaurants my 3-year-old Lonely Planet recommends as “must-eats” have newspapers pasted inside the windows and sit abandoned. We did see a cruise ship stop here a few days ago actually, but it only pulled in for the few moments it took to let off a passenger met by an ambulance who whisked the person off to the local hospital. Then the ship pulled away from the quay and chugged towards the pass in the reef, onward to more lively spots.
We don’t mind. Although the town doesn’t have a lot to offer the tourist we are kind of tired of being tourists this week anyway. After busy days in Moorea and watching Heiva dancing at Huahine we just feel like being at home. We were delighted to find an outdoor shower a 10-minute walk from the boat, nestled in some Australian pines between the beach and the road. We hauled ourselves down there, shower puffs and body wash in hand and took a good long washing. I barely noticed the cars slowing down to stare at what must be quite a sight, an American family of four soaping up at the beach showers normally used by the local rowing crews and surfers.
Athough Uturoa is largely devoid of tourists, it’s chock-full of local residents. The town hums with people running errands at one of the good hardware and grocery stores that are minutes away from the boat and they tote around their fresh baguettes each morning just like we do. The harbor is busy with small panga-like boats full of families and groceries, commuting by sea to remote homes. Every night this week at 1900 the drumming would start up in the town square, about a block away from Wondertime and we’d wander over to peek at the practice for the upcoming Heiva dancing. The men beat a fervent rhythm while women’s hips danced, bare feet following along on the concrete, and all around the town watched holding babies. Holly and the other town children watched intently at the edges and tried to duplicate the instinctive movements of the grown dancers.
Two days ago, just as our weather reports predicted, the Mara’amu arrived: freshening SE tradewinds brought wind and rainshowers and cool air. The wind buffeted Wondertime and we secured her mooring lines with shackles to avoid the rusty rings on the pier from chewing into our tired docklines. We visited with new boat friends from Australia, Belgium, Norway, Hungary also hunkering down here. Rain squalls came one after the next yesterday afternoon and we made hot chocolate and dipped Arnott’s cookies from Australia in it.
Today the wind was still whipping over our temporary island home but the skies were clearer and I took the opportunity to grab a cartful of groceries from the store across the street. Michael and the girls flew a kite on the empty expanse of quay that only time will tell when it will hold another ship full of tourists.