Paradise on Earth

Sasha Pansovoy

Vacation traveling is usually entertaining, but when I found out, near the end of last spring, that my family and I were going on a two week sailing vacation in French Polynesia, I got really excited; the French Polynesian Islands are considered “paradise on Earth,” and I was about to see for myself. It was totally worth traveling for a day and half to sail around the South Pacific and snorkel with sharks and stingrays.

It was still pitch black as my annoying alarm beeped at 3:45 AM. Our plane took off for Los Angeles at 6:30 AM, and we arrived there 6 1/2 hours later. Then we hopped on a plane that took us another 8 1/2 hours west, finally arriving in Papeete, Tahiti in French Polynesia.

French Polynesia is located in the South Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles east of New Zealand and thousands of miles south west of California. It is made up of the Marquesas Islands, the Society Islands, the Tuamotus Islands, the Austral Islands and the Gambier Islands. My family and I stayed in the Society Islands and only visited Tahiti and then Moorea, an island about fifty miles from Tahiti; it’s the closest island to Tahiti.

For fourteen days my family and I sailed on my aunt and uncle’s 46 foot catamaran, the Zangezi, around those two popular islands. The first several days we were anchored at a dock not far from Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. We toured Papeete for three days, walking around their markets, browsing in shops, eating in great restaurants and walking around the Papeete pier, scoping out the beautiful sailboats. At the time, the biggest and most expensive sailboat in the world, the “Maltese Falcon” was docked there.

The flower market in Papeete, just a block from the pier, was shockingly colorful, and the people were full of vibrant energy and smiles. Entering the market near the food area, we saw rows and rows of fresh meat, poultry and fish laid out on ice-filled tables. Fresh fruits and vegetables were also laid out temptingly. Part of the market was dedicated to the local fast food of sandwiches, pizza or soup. Another section of the first floor was filled with souvenirs of folk outfits, purses made out of banana leaves, local jewelry, and body lotions and oils, all made by local artists. In another area of the market there were beautiful flower decorations for sale. Upstairs was a whole different story; most of those stores sold clothing and shells. But there was a café, and a jewelry store that sold black pearls. Black pearls are ubiquitous in the French Polynesian Islands.

Taking French in school helped in asking for directions, ordering something to eat or just having conversations with the locals. The people who live on Moorea and Tahiti (and probably other islands as well) are extremely friendly.

Four days after visiting Tahiti we took a four hour sail over to Moorea, its neighboring island. For the next week and a half we stayed at Moorea. We anchored right outside of Cook Bay, named after the famous James Cook. Just about every single day we swam, snorkeled and explored on shore.

Most of Moorea is surrounded by coral reefs, which provide great snorkeling opportunities. This was no typical day at the beach; it was my first time actually snorkeling at a coral reef, and seeing such breathtaking underwater sites is an incredible experience.

The day before I left, my mom, sister, cousin, uncle, and I hopped in the dinghy and rode for about twenty minutes. Finally we got to what I had been waiting for since the moment I heard about it: Stingray World. There were tour boats, and nervous people walking and swimming in the water. It took me a couple of minutes of screwing up my courage before I left the dinghy and ventured into the water, since there were also sharks in Stingray World.

After several minutes of standing on my tiptoes, I dipped into the water. The stingrays are absolutely spectacular; they swim right up against and around you. If you stood up, at least five surrounded you and ruffled their fins asking for food; a tour guide handed me some red meat, and I fed the stingrays. It was fun swimming around them and petting them as they swam above, below, and on all sides of you. Of course, their rays were slightly unnerving; I couldn’t get out of my mind that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter was killed by one.

In a nutshell, my trip was fabulous. I do recommend to any inspired traveler to take at least two weeks and visit Tahiti and its surrounding islands. And of course go snorkeling at Stingray World on Moorea and check out the coral reefs around the islands; they are indescribable.