Unexpected Visitors

From my vacation notebook: May 21, 1984 Moorea, Tahiti, French Polynesia

“Off to find the “cascades”…our waiter told us that it is a secluded place only the locals know about…can’t wait!”

We had driven from Haapiti to Afareaitu and followed the directions exactly as they were written down. Did we miss something, we wondered as we appeared to be in a neighborhood. Small ranch style homes dotted the road we were on.  Still, we went a little further and then saw a dirt path. It looked well-worn and led into a lush green forest a little farther back.  Abandoning our scooter at the mouth of the emerald trail, we hoped we were in the right place.

Trail up ahead

Equipped with water and wearing sturdy sneakers, bug spray and sunscreen we were ready. We were told it would only be a mile hike to the waterfalls and to follow the river. Simple enough.

It had rained the night before so the ground was soft and slick. It took a few unruly strides, before we found our balance and became more sure-footed.  Although it was early in the day, we soon found ourselves engulfed in thick heat. Step by step we traversed along the trail, crisscrossing the shallow river and moss-covered rocks. A concert of humming insects buzzed in our ears. Overhead fruit dove and finch cries ricocheted throughout the banyan trees. There wasn’t another soul in sight.

Grey-green fruit dove

A quarter hour later, it felt as if the mercury and humidity had risen to the ninety-degree mark, making it harder to breath. My tee shirt stuck to my back. On the pathway, tangles of limbs reached out in false promise of supporting us.  Breaking boughs with each slippery step, pungent odors from rotting breadfruit wafted up from the muddiness underfoot.

Sixty minutes had passed since our trek began. We stopped to drink from our bottles. The water was hot now, no longer refreshing.  My hamstrings throbbed and my knees wobbled, while I blinked sweat out of my eyes. Mosquitoes feasted on my exposed epidermis, as sweat had washed away any protection I had slathered on earlier. Robert looked at me and me back at him. Neither us said, “Shouldn’t we see the waterfalls by now?” but I know I was thinking it. So we plodded on.  Then a short while later, we heard it…thunderous clapping water!  Victorious as marathon runners crossing the finish line, we stumbled into the clearing. A spray of coolness permeated the air.

Afareaitu Falls on Moorea

Astonished, we stood in awe of the mighty cascades as the crystal waters crashed into a dark blue pool below.  Feeling eyes upon us, we glanced around at the large rocks surrounding us.  On them we viewed – twenty or so tourists, with their guide, resting comfortably, eating bananas.

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