You may have noticed that this post has taken a little longer than usual to get up on the blog – part of that again, is the internet (or lack there of), but a more burdensome and truthful part of it is that I have found myself having difficulties writing about Fakarava and our experiences on the island.
On our way out to dive the North Pass of Fakarava, an Italian man, there with his family, and who actually has a competition going in his family on who has travelled to the most countries, reminded me that ‘traveling is good for the soul’. I reflected on this statement during our stay in Fakarava, but found it necessary to add a little something to it: Traveling is good for the soul, but that doesn’t mean you have to LOVE everywhere you go. Some places may seem like you have found your paradise, while others for no specific reason, may rub you the wrong way – this was Fakarava for Patrick and I.
We couldn’t quite figure out what we didn’t like: our Airbnb host was incredible, the island was absolutely stunning (in an off the map kind of way), the food was good AND cheap, and the diving wasn’t too shabby either (quite the opposite of shabby, in fact), but something felt off the whole time we were there. Was it that we started to miss home? Or that our rustic tent-like cabins were TOO rustic for the few rainy days we had? Or maybe it was our continuing frustrations with not being able to speak the local language? We haven’t quite been able to pinpoint it, but that’s okay with us. We took in the experiences we enjoyed there, but were ready and happy to move on when we did.
Although Fakarava wasn’t necessarily our favorite place in the whole wide world, we were still traveling, and still loving the new experiences and memories we were creating.
Backing up a bit – where the f&%# is Fakarava??? Well – take a map, zoom in on the big blue space called the Pacific Ocean, zoom in some more, being careful to avoid anything that looks like land or civilization… keep zooming…. keep zooming… almost there… there it is – you’ve done it! That thin strip of sand shaped like a crooked toaster – that’s Fakarava! The small little island where the most exciting thing to happen each week is when the beer ship comes in.
Fakarava is an island in French Polynesia, with a population of only 750 people, and a landscape similar to Rangiroa. The island encompasses a large blue lagoon, which has only two exits to the Pacific Ocean: the North Pass and the South Pass (creative names, right?). There is one main village located on the north of the island, with one bank, one police officer, one fireman, and two VERY small markets – more similar to gas stations than markets. This made our meal shopping even more difficult than Mo’orea – especially since both markets closed everyday between 12pm and 3pm… seriously. Again, we ended up eating a strange array of foods; none of which included meat because you couldn’t buy meat in the market – you had to know someone who sells it from their house… seriously.
In parallel to our grocery shopping and cooking disasters, we’ve also had a few fumbles eating out. Every menu is in French, which we’ve started to get used to and know the rough translations of at the very least the common dishes of the islands. Patrick and I; however, found ourselves at a snack by the name of La Paillote on more than one occasion. They served a variety of crepes and paninis both savory and sweet. On our third trip there, Patrick decided that he would finally venture out and get a panini instead of his usual crepe. He scoured over the menu, which felt like hours, making sure that he wasn’t ordering anything with blue cheese or goat cheese on it ’cause let’s be honest, those are the worst cheeses. He settles on a panini that looks free of anything foreign or strange. When our food arrived, we get a whiff of something that smells off. We took in a few more sniffs, and came to the conclusion that one of us had ordered something with blue cheese. Both our faces were clenched in a disgusted anticipation as we waited to find out which of us had ordered something with the worst of all cheeses: blue cheese. As we took a bite, I smiled, and Patrick looked back at me with a face that looked like he had just accidentally eaten a cockroach. I knew in that very moment that I came out on top of the Blue Cheese Fiasco of 2017.
One thing we’ve had to get used to is the French kissing introduction that is obviously a custom in French Polynesia. And no, not that kind of French kissing, but the one kiss, two kiss on the cheek every time you say hello and goodbye. I found myself extremely self-conscious of my incredibly noticeable awkwardness – do you make a kissing noise when you do it? Do you bend in or just stand stuff? Do you actually kiss the cheek or just kiss out into the air beside the cheek? For a while, Patrick would sit back and make fun of me as I had to do this all the time, while he found ways to get out of it… until Fakarava! Patrick finally had to feel my pain and awkwardness as women in Fakarava seemed more comfortable to initiate the unnatural introduction.
My parents encouraged us to ‘take risks’ while traveling. Well, we failed. On one lazy afternoon (there are no other kinds in Fakarava), we found some bikes with inflated tires (WOOO), and started the journey towards what was known as PK7 beach. We had biked some maybe eight kilometers before the road encountered the deserted airport, complete with a gate across the road and a dusty sign with big red lettering in French. As good Americans, we know two things: red lettering is always bad and never to trespass on an airport unless you want to disappear into the Patriot Act. Unable to read the sign, and unsure where the French land on airport security, we retraced our path back to our lazy afternoon. Later, some locals explained that the sign said something to the effect of ‘Welcome to the Airport, feel free to bike onward to the beach.’
If you look up Fakarava, one of the key attractions you’ll come across is the Pink Sand Beach. Well, we gotta be honest… it looked pretty damn brown to us. Maybe a twinkle of pink, but definitely brown, and definitely not pink enough to justify the steep price of admission. Pretty sure Virginia Beach can start advertising their own pink sand paradise.
So why come to Fakarava if not for the brown sand beach and the fabulous blue cheese sandwiches? There are plenty of strips of sand even more desolate than this if you just want an escape, but THOSE strips of sand are not privy to some of the best shark diving in the world! That is what brought us to Fakarava, and what occupied almost every morning there. Splashing beneath the surface of the North Pass brings into sharp relief two things: One – the reef is incredible, varied, and full of life (a refreshing sight after Rangiroa) Two – you could build a house out of the walls of sharks found in the pass. Over the course of nine dives on the island, we encountered hundreds (if not thousands) of grey sharks, plenty of sleepy white tips, nurse sharks that were well out of the nursery, and my personal favorite, two manta rays (which to be fair isn’t a shark, but I doubt this blog is going to show up in the American Scientific Journal of French Polynesia Aquatic Sightings, so just let it go, please). Patrick’s favorite encounter was with an overweight purple stonefish, as it was nice to shoot something that didn’t immediately swim away.
Pictures do a better job than words with diving, so I’ll leave you with just the highlights before you hit the pics (Patrick’s Website)!
- You could HEAR the whales under the water (it’s officially whale season in French Polynesia!)
- Baby sharks are sooo flippin’ cute – especially when there are 50 of them swimming in circles around you! You just want to squeeezeeeee them!! But you can’t… because of the teeth.
- Turns out sometimes you forget to pay for a dive because you mistranslate the broken English of “You can pay me over at the shop. I’ll be right there.” as “There are showers at the shop. No need to pay – the price of the dive was included in your tour.” Also turns out when this happens, they will hunt you down across the island. How you may wonder?: “I’m looking for two Americans who stiffed me” “Oh well there are only two on the entire island, I’ll call their pension for you.”
Anyways, the next time you’ll hear from us is will be from Rurutu – an even MORE remote island, but NOT a strip of sand. And instead of diving, we’ll be snorkeling with freakin’ humpback whales!!!
Extending our honeymoon,
Samantha & Patrick