We drive around Cook’s Bay, cradled by luscious emerald mountains on either side whilst the lagoon of turquoise blue stretches out to our right. As the car follows the second right-hand bend, tracing the U-shape of the bay, I glance back over my shoulder at the mountainous interior of this goddess-island.
“You see there? The mountain looks like a woman praying. That is Mount Moua Puta.”
I see her. I see her long hair cascading down as though heavy with the weight of the crystalline water that laps at the island’s shores. I see her face upturned to the heavens, the apex of the nose, her forehead tilted back and lips gently parted. When clouds catch on the peak it looks like she is exhaling – breathing the soul of the island.
We pass tables piled with fruit on the sides of the road; families sell their tropical harvest from the abundant fruit trees that grow in their gardens. There is no central market here, unlike on Tahiti, so people sell produce outside their own front gates. Amongst the spiky yellow pineapples Mo’orea is famous, are red-hued papayas, bunches of small, fat bananas, cacao pods, alien-looking jackfruit the size of small babies, and the celebrated uru, or breadfruit, which grows abundantly in the Fenua.
Elizabeth my taxi driver resembles this brightly coloured display: she is wearing a banana-yellow 50s style dress with large green flowers and has her hair tied in a bun, secured with a colourful hair tie and clips. On her steering wheel are paw print stickers, and her dashboard is scattered with fake frangipani flowers. She clearly lives and breathes her tropical homeland: “I am born and raised in Mo’orea. My parents came from Switzerland 75 years ago. There was nothing more than horse and cart to get around the island”. She tells me she has visited all the islands in the Archipel de la Société but Mo’orea is “la plus belle”.
As we drive, I am filled in on the waste management system of the island (recycling is shipped to Tahiti three times per week), school hours (7.30am – 3pm for nursery and junior school, 7.30am – 4pm for senior school), and anchoring rights in the bay (it’s free!). I am then given a brief lesson in the Tahitian language. I try and half fail to master the rolled R of “māuruuru” (thank you), but do learn about the origin of a Mai Tai: “maita’i” is used as a greeting much like “ça va” is used in French, and roughly translates as “all good?”. The Polynesian cocktail shares its name with this Tahitian phrase because “it makes you feel good!”.
As we round the headland of this heart-shaped island, the red tassels and pompoms hanging from the rear-view mirror dance with the motion of the car. Rum or no rum, this enchantress of an island has certainly made me feel good.
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