It’s a rare person that can resist the warmth of white sands, the sparkle of crystal waters and the luxury of a beachside resort. Being stranded on a tropical island with nothing but fish, fruit, and a sexy native is a fantasy we all have envisioned. However, upon arrival at your beachside destination of choice, you may find that you will have to share this fantasy with many other travelers, and the reality may not live up to your dreams. The hotel may be beautiful, the beach looks like it does in the picture, but you are still left with wanting a little more.
Luckily, there is a different way to vacation in the tropics that appeals to your own personal sense of adventure. Recently, a friend and I decided to skip the resort-style living for something a little more unique during our trip to Ra'iātea, a remote island in French Polynesia.
The flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti on Air Tahiti Nui was surprisingly only a pleasant, eight-hour trip. Once we landed, my friend and I traveled by a smaller plane to the Ra'iātea’s airport. I use the term “airport” loosely, as it is about the size of my mother’s home in Texas. Upon arrival, a representative from the Tahiti Yacht Charter greeted us, swept up our bags into her van and whisked us away to the pier.
In a matter of minutes, we went from the steps off our plane to the deck of a small catamaran that would be our home for the next few days. Our skipper, Jeron, was a French-born Ra'iātea resident with a charming yet quiet disposition. He gave us a map of the island and detailed what we would me doing over the next couple of days. Our personal chef, Maiva, was also French and had been living on the island for six years. She was young, friendly, and beautiful; the kind of woman that you instantly wanted to befriend. After she served us a local beer and asked about any food allergies, we were off on a leisurely ride to our first destination.
As we traveled to the mouth of the river of Ra'iātea that fed into the lagoon, Maiva served us a delectable raw fish salad served Polynesian style with coconut milk, carrots, onions and romaine lettuce. After countless meals at hotel restaurants, this exotic and refreshing meal sparked my senses and paired perfectly with our tropical paradise. Right from the start, I knew that this was going to be the type of vacation that I had been craving — something different.
After our lunch and a breathtaking ride on the coast, Jeron dropped the dingy from the back of the boat and my friend and I piled in. We traveled into the mouth of the river and away from the lagoon to watch the waters turn from a cerulean blue to a milky green. Two friendly Polynesian women paddled by us in canoes, waving as they went by. A young boy tucked up in the branches of a sprawling tree appeared and also exchanged greetings. But the most peculiar sight was the waterside fruit stand. A lady sat next to a table filled with coconuts, bananas, and papayas for sale — acting as sort of a drive-through for river travelers.
After our forage down the river, we continued our journey around Ra'iātea. After an hour of sailing and a brief tropical shower, Jeron set down the anchor next to a secluded island and an expansive coral garden. My friend and I jumped off the back of the boat with our snorkels attached and set off to explore the island and its surroundings. A variety of exotic fish swam in and out of the coral. I took a baguette into the water and I soon had a swarm tiger fish plucking it from my fingertips. Unlike other snorkeling ventures I had been on with large groups of other tourists, this experience was uniquely my own.