French Polynesia continues to invite honeymooners and other travelers to its various islands during the pandemic and beyond. A negative COVID-19 test is required to fly to French Polynesia and a second test a few days after arrival. Toast to this new life together from an island like Tikehau. Your honeymoon could go something like this …
The blueberry water of the Tuamotu Archipelago looks good enough to eat. But I don’t have to swallow it to feed myself because I have bachu – and he makes me poisson cru for lunch. Bachu (for the day) on a desert island an hour boat ride from the distant island of Tikehau, Bachu and I make the most of it. That is, if you consider playing around in paradise as something to be endured as hardship. In truth, the most unbearable part of my ordeal is the caressing heat of the sun and the cozy touch of the salty breeze in my hair. I lie on the sugary beach, dip my feet in the transparent lagoon and wait for Bachu to squeeze coconut juice from the seed. He uses palm bark for this – not everyone?
Bachu, a towering Tahitian with a motherly instinct, mumbles in French as he cooks. Occasionally, he stops to adjust his floral pareo, which is tied around his waist like a skirt. He sets up a rustic picnic table under the shady tent he set up for us and then returns to his preparation. The sea breeze captures the perfume of the hot limes it squeezes and blends it with the creamy scent of coconut. Birds tickle nearby, and the water plays a stuttering tune that is as inviting as a giggle. Bachu works gracefully and methodically. I want to take part in his peaceful ritual. But when I look over his shoulder and ask for help, he shudders – and silences me. He’d rather cut the raw, fresh tuna into pieces and chop the tomatoes without my interference. In order to. While he’s dicing hot onions, I grab my snorkeling gear and start my two-stage game with the water. I look back and see Bachu standing over a huge teak bowl, throwing the ingredients. When I step into the sea in search of reef sharks, he calls out to me. “If you find them, swim towards them. They won’t hurt you. “
Poisson Cru, the standout dish from Tikehau, Tahiti, and the rest of French Polynesia, is similar to ceviche. Marinated in lime juice, served in a coconut bowl on a lettuce leaf, it often consists of cucumber, onion, paprika and tomato that add crunch to the sweet, tender tuna pieces. Locals like Bachu cook it almost anywhere and for all occasions. You have memorized the recipe, although every Tahitian is sure to personalize it. Bachu swears by the palm bark and the abundance of coconut juice. On this uninhabited island where the ingredients arrived by speedboat, the Poisson Cru makes a satisfying meal. We eat a plate of it, accompanied by cold bottles of amber-colored Hinano beer. When we’re done, Bachu tries to teach me to weave a basket from palm fronds. He grumbles in French about my incompetent abilities. “Don’t,” he says with a smile as he wipes my failure from my hands and neatly braids it into a masterpiece.
Back at my hotel, the Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, I look at the view. Jacques-Yves Cousteau declared Lilliputian Tikehau, an hour’s flight from Tahiti, to be the richest atoll in the world. This round-up smells of grandeur, but Tikehau, surrounded by pink beaches made of rugged coral, is a tiny, unpretentious place defined by its density of fish. The translated name means peaceful landing, and the resort’s low-key atmosphere remains true to the nickname. Serpent pillars connect overwater bungalows to the shore and a simple, thatched main lodge. Beach villas are wedged in palm groves, their hammocks invite you to relax. Tikehau Pearl is a three star resort that takes advantage of the island’s off-grid location and reputation for secluded diving and snorkeling adventures. It lets nature rise to its well-deserved leading role. On a quay I look into water that is so crystalline it looks like air. From this point of view I could stay all day and watch the fleet of brightly colored fish go by. Who needs a snorkel here? Even in the spacious overwater bungalows, marine animals are the focus. Floor windows capture processions of parrotfish, lumpy groupers, moray eels, triggerfish, and lemon sharks – among other brightly decorated species. The never boring spectacle lasts day and night – around the clock – and is therefore the most original reality show in the world.
Although I see a graceful manta ray leaping into the air from a boat off the coast of Tikehau, I am luckier in Bora Bora. There I swim with the graceful, angelic creatures. Once feared by the elderly as kidnappers of children, the harmless fish flutter through the sea like dancers after the choreography. They swim twenty feet below me. With the water this clear, it feels like I’m snorkeling next to them. But suddenly I understand her legendary reputation as a seducer. Trapped in the beauty, I swam further from my anchored boat than planned. I emerge and find it as small as the head of a pin. Fortunately, as I swim back to the boat, my captain is steering towards me and soon I am climbing in, my mermaid adventure has come to an end.
I end my stay in Tahiti at the sister hotel of Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort, Le Bora Bora by Pearl Resorts. French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous region of France and includes almost 120 islands and five archipelagos. Bora Bora, one of the “islands”, actually comprises innumerable teeny motus (islets), most of which are only inhabited by one resort. Here even the airport lives on its own island. Incoming guests get into yacht-style taxis to take them to their hotel. Mount Otemanu, a majestic emerald green volcano, pierces the lagoon. Around it, the resorts get through the presence of the Gravitas mountain. Its shadows appear mystical. So I go to a hammock with a cocktail in hand, and the sea offers an open invitation. I think about how Marlon Brando called this area the “tincture of the South Seas”. A tincture is a medicine, and the Cure of French Polynesia heals with its generous population and breathtaking nature. But there is something else too: a tangible poetry that the locals refer to as mana. This immaterial energy moves the soul with its whispers of romance and possibility.
One day I could even learn to weave a basket here.
More information: www.tahiti-tourisme.com
Recipe: Poisson Cru
Lasts: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
- 1¾ pound fresh tuna (sushi quality)
- ½ cucumber (3½ ounces)
- 1 tomato (1¾ ounce)
- 1 green pepper
- 1 large onion
- 8 limes (juiced)
- 1 glass of coconut milk
- salt and pepper
- Cut the fish into ½-inch cubes, rinse with fresh water, drain, and transfer to a large bowl.
- Squeeze the limes and pour the juice over the fish, mix well and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Thinly slice the onion and green pepper, cut the tomatoes into small cubes, remove the seeds from the cucumber and cut into thin crescents.
- Drain some lime juice, add vegetables and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the coconut milk five minutes before serving.
- Serve chilled. Present on a bed of lettuce or in a coconut bowl.