Maupiti - Paradise on Earth
On the island, roosters can’t tell time. The first one starts to sing at one in the morning, which actually might not be entirely wrong, given that the sun sets just after six, it is pitch black by 7, and therefore everyone is normally asleep by eight or nine. For some, those few hours of sleep are enough.
It is now 5 in the morning, and so it seems normal that every rooster wants to greet every single one of its neighbors. They, just as the other 1,000+ residents, are somehow related. As Albert, a man working in the pension who can perfectly sing Elvis Presley and Luciano Pavarotti, said, “Everyone on the island are my kin.”
I’ve never seen this many stars anywhere. The whole sky is an endless spotted sheet filled with big, small, bright, distant, close and every other imaginable star that looks like a fog. There are big splotches of darkness that I can’t identify. Maybe clouds? There’s no one to ask since everyone’s asleep, and even so, not many people would know. The owners of the pension only speak Tahitian and French, and my French starts and ends with only a few words, and my Tahitian only consists of one: la ora na [jorana]. It is impossible not to learn it; every person you pass smiles and says hello. If they speak in English, they will gladly speak as much as they can. So any kind words you’ve heard about the people’s friendliness are true.
Maybe it’s because the island is small and in western terms, it’s “underdeveloped.” But this is the choice of the locals. They say that this is the way that newlyweds’ paradise, Bora Bora, looked over 50 years ago (more on this later). Maupiti does not allow any hotels and therefore the only place to stay are local pensions (this is the name for small hotels which are in the backyard or even the same house as the owners).
Most often they have a few rooms and a few separate houses and common areas where the guests eat together. Normally breakfast and dinner are included in the night’s stay. There is nothing to worry about, especially since otherwise finding food would be incredibly difficult. The island is small, nearly 12 km2, and the majority of the ground is sand or lava rocks, so any grass that does grow, only suffices for the chickens and roosters who fill their diet with fallen mangoes (I wonder what their meat tastes like?)
Although there isn't much fertile soil, it is impossible to die of hunger. The roadsides are packed with various different fruit trees: mango, banana, papaya, and others, whose names I don't even know.
The lagoons are filled with fish, which is used to make the area’s most well known dish: poisson cru (raw fish) or ia ota [ya ota]. The dish is similar to ceviche, but poisson cru fish (usually tuna) is cut in bigger slices, marinated in lemon juice for only 10 minutes, and then mixed with coconut milk, largely diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and shredded carrots, etc. As the locals said, you can add any vegetables, but I didn’t see any other than those on the island.
The early morning silence is interrupted only by roosters. My feet are always in warm lagoon water, where calm ripples are clouded by a flock of flying fish - do they ever sleep?
Silence and peace. That’s probably how I imagine heaven on Earth and I understand why everyone here guards the island.
The people aren’t the only friendly ones; the dogs are too! Blanc [Blanch] not only comes up to everyone and tries to get attention, but also swims far into the lagoon, especially with the children, and takes afternoon naps on the beach with guests.
But the dogs are only friendly while it’s light outside. They do not tolerate any trips by foot or bike right before sunset: suddenly, their strong guard dog instincts kick in.
There was not a chance to ask about crime, but you can leave your bikes anywhere on the island, any time of day, and no one will touch them. Also, in the pension, not one room nor house has a lock. But it doesn't really matter because after a day, you forget about money, cards, passports and all other valuables.
Maupiti’s sky is beautiful during the day as well. I lay with my legs in the water, as if they’re an anchor, not letting me drift off from reality, because if I look up, my head starts to spin. In the literal sense, it’s as if you’re slightly tipsy from wine. The clouds themselves act as if torn by eternal hesitation; they appear to be floating in opposite directions at the same time.
Other things fill me with wonder as well: I can’t seem to figure out where the sun rises. I know, it sounds stupid, but I have never been confronted with this kind of mystery. If I see the sun set on the beach, I look for the sunrise in the opposite direction. Or at least that’s how it’s always been. All of my knowledge fell apart the first morning when I got ready to bike to the sunrise on the other side of the island. To my surprise and confusion, it rose somewhere else, and the next day, climbing the island’s tallest mountain Teurafaatiu (372m), it rose from the Pacific ocean’s vast expanses, the same place as yesterday. I never managed to confirm the 180 degree turn between the sunrise and sunset. With my doubts in mind, I tried to check my geographical orientation with others. Everyone’s opinion, about where the sun rises, agreed, except for the sun’s. So maybe she, like the roosters, lives on her own calculations here, or the island has confused us and we all lost our orientation 🙂 I internalize my amazement, smile, and forget until the evening 🙂.
I want to live and enjoy paradise right now. Who knows when I’ll next be able to enjoy water that does not get colder than 80 F or 27 C all year long. Right now in July, there is no need for air conditioning because the natural kind works perfectly. Windows are never closed and the soft breeze allows for a good night’s rest, if you’re not a light sleeper that is. The roosters and possible neighbors can be heard walking. If you’re renting a room, you will have 3 roommates and will all share one bathroom and shower, or if you live in a separate house, you won’t have to share, besides the occasional lizard and mosquito.
But who stays inside during the day when paradise is just out the door? Access to a beautiful private beach with beds, chairs, various swimming items, and bikes is a few strides away.
Honestly, you’ll need your legs the most because there are many places where you can wade to the other island called motu: 700 meters and the water never reaches your waist. Sometimes you pass stingrays, and if you’re lucky, a shark. As you're wading, it may feel like a large street, as many other tourists decide to spend their time similarly, wading across as well. That “many” is actually close to just 10 😊. Motu Auria has enough white sand, sea shells (many of which are inhabited by crabs), and corals, which house plenty of fish, for everyone.
The lagoon’s crashing waves guard to lines of corals which don’t seem to exist at first sight. The seeming peacefulness in the water disappears when you put on a pair of snorkeling goggles and look under water: it is filled with color and movement. You move slowly through the coral corridors, looking at the fish, and them at you. This is also how I met a shark. I was so excited and surprised that I didn’t even manage to turn my camera on. So you can choose to believe or not believe me, I don’t have proof 😊.
And more on this, later 😊.