July 15, 1998 - Fete' - Papeete, Tahiti
It is fun to arrive at a destination right when a local festival is about to occur, and for west-bound Pacific cruisers the timing and location of French Polynesia’s Fete couldn’t be better. Fete (pronounced “Fet”, like “let”) is a month long celebration which takes place in July on all of the Society Islands - with the largest celebration happening in Papeete in the middle of the month. It really doesn't matter where in the Societies you are, anchored under the shadow of Mount Muaroa in Oponohu Bay on Moorea, on the west side of Tahaa, or at Bora Bora, Fete will be happening there with dances, parades and sports events. The biggest number of activities and the most spectacular however occur in Papeete on the island of Tahiti.
We arrived in early July and soon had WINGS tied up to the quay on the main street right in the central harbor of Papeete. It was a busy place. Lots of traffic and crowds of people make the quay a noisy place but we loved this central location, even with the hustle and bustle. It is close to electronic stores, marine stores, and every other kind of marine business you could imagine, plus restaurants, discos and supermarkets, and most of all it is close to most of the Fete activities.
On the Quay
The dancing competition shows are the biggest attraction. For a couple of weeks teams of young Polynesians come to the stadium just down the quay from the parked cruisers and perform for the judges. Most cruisers go to some of these competitions. The tickets to the finals are more expensive and harder to get, but if you want to see the best native dancing in French Polynesia these are the ones to see. There are also craft fairs (great places to see the best Polynesian craft work), music festivals (with all kinds of good live music from Zydeco to Rock and Roll and plenty of Hula). Perhaps the two biggest events are the canoe races and the Autonomy Day Parade. We were very impressed by the canoe racing. Just past the end of the quay there is a beach about 1 kilometer long virtually covered with 6, 8, and 16 person canoes all stacked upside down on big racks, with the singles on smaller stands nearby. They are built of modern high technology materials (fiberglass & epoxy or epoxy saturated wood) and of course painted all sorts of bright colors. On race days the beach is loaded with competitors, and spectators alike. The families bring beach blankets, boom boxes, and picnic lunches and chat happily while the racers wait nervously for their starts. The races go right past all the moored cruising boats and out of the harbor. A little while later they come stroking back to finish just in front of you.
Afterwards you will see the competitors recapping the day’s race with their friends with lots of hand motions and enthusiastic descriptions. As a souvenir you might go to one of the shops and buy one of their racing paddles. They are light, big, and nicely done with hand carved varnished wood, but they are obviously meant for serious canoeing.
We lived right in the center of Papeete for a few weeks, shopping, visiting cruising friends, and trying to save money in French Polynesia, an expensive place. To make some extra money I worked on sails for other cruisers and we figured out how to keep our expenses down. Fresh french bread, cheese, and the local Hinao beer were all quite reasonable, as were the fruits and veggies we picked up in the local markets.
Click Market Produce to see what we bought in the market in Papeete.
To eat out cheaply we favored, as did all of the cruisers, Le Truck. Each evening a number of vans and minibuses would roll up to the quay and set up shop as restraunts. Panels opened up to form canopies, benches were pulled out, lights turned on, and inside French and Polynesian chefs cooked a variety of meals, for a good, low, price.
One night we found the club district, where hard drinking and rowdy crowds were common, and where the polynesian gay community hung out. We heard of some tourists who were beat up by drunk locals so we stayed away from this part of town.
On Autonomy Day, July 14, there is a big parade down the main street by the quay. You might think that you would get a perfect viewing spot from your boat, but the crowds that attend this parade pack the sidewalks and crowd out onto the avenue itself. It pays to go there early with a folding chair. Nearly all the dancing groups, canoe teams, bands, sports teams and just about anyone who wants to march are in this parade and it is very colorful.
Farm Goods on Parade
Girl Finds a Good Vantage Point
The tropical shade trees lining the avenue and the back drop of all the cruisers with their ships dressed for the day really add to the atmosphere. Not to be missed.
We could have stayed in Papeete longer than the month we allowed, but we had to move on. As long as we cruise though we’ll remember Fete in Papette
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Papeete