South Pacific Motorbike Ride
Thu 31 Jul 2014 19:41
Courage, on Li'l Explorers, was kind enough to lend me his motorbike. It's been over two years since I've ridden. Wondered if I still remembered how to ride, I cadged a dinghy ride back to Lochmarin from the beach (we'd sailed there in Calm Rhino) and hurriedly searched out some jeans, a long sleeved top, my deck shoes and sailing gloves. In 5 minutes I was back, strapping on the helmet and away...
Of course I remembered how to ride. There we were, the bike and I, moving as one down the smooth tarmac of the road around Huahine Iti (there's only one road). But instead of seeing the patchwork quilt of Dorset rolled out across the hills and valleys the bright sea sparkled at me from behind the palm trees. Sweeping around the bends I followed the lagoon: turquoise shallows abruptly changing to deep blue then changing back to turquoise before being capped by white waves breaking on the reef. I slowed through villages: a string of houses along the road, palm leaf thatched houses interspersed with red tin roofs, chickens and dogs every which way. Alongside the beach families were gathered playing boule - very French, others paddled their out-rigger canoes along the lagoon or just wondered along strung out across the road: clearly traffic isn't an issue here. Everywhere I was greeted with smiles, nods (they seem to nod up instead of down, if that makes sense) and waves.
My sight was filled by vibrant colour. On my left the steep hillsides rose, majestic and dramatic, layered in the brightest of greens, broken up by a scattering of glowing red and orange leaved trees. Along the road side bougainvillea and hibiscus flashed as I passed by, then, as I left the village, gave way to emerald turf between the road and the sea, surrounding the black granite standing stones of an ancient Marae.
The road climbed over a little headland, zig-zagging it's way up and then down and I relaxed into riding: all my senses reading the road, my whole body feeling the motion, swinging around the bends, trusting the warm tyres to grip, loving the feeling of powering gently out of the turns. Before long I realised I was counter steering my way around the corners and I knew that even if I had forgotten how to ride, my body hadn't.
Soon I was riding up the East side of the island, fragrant vanilla farms by my side, wondering if the motus I saw were actually the sister island of Huahine Nui but glimpses of the surf on the outer reef told me I was not yet there. Turning at the top of the Island the sun ahead of me let me know I was now alongside the channel, and the beaches quickly gave way to mangroves alongside the causeway, the fresh smell of the sea taking on a muddy miasma. Not put off, tongues hanging out, four dogs were having a swim. Not a paddle, they were about 50 ft out, just heads poking out from the water, they'd taken themselves off for a cooling dip. Crabs scuttled sideways across the road as I approached and banana plantations splashed patches of lighter greens between the dark mangroves.
I passed the sole bridge that joins the two islands and started down the West coast, running alongside the path Lochmarin had taken down the lagoon, but going the long way, following around the inlets and deep bays whose mouths we had sailed past. As I came over the headlands tracks ran off the road down to the beautiful houses nestled on the hillsides, often with their own dinghy dock or beach, which we'd seen from on deck.
Instead of dodging road kill I dodged coconuts as the navigation buoys in the lagoon warned me that I was nearly back to Avea Bay. Slowing down to pass the palm leaf thatched huts that make up the hotel I turned onto the sandy turf and cutting the engine I rolled to a stop. The hot exhaust pinged in the quiet as I took off my helmet, my body relaxed but feeling so alive.
When folk ask me what I miss whilst living this sailing life I answer "People - family, friends", and "Riding my motorbike". Sure, it's great to have granary bread and proper crunchy Cheddar that squeaks when you bite it, and some decent cider and a real ale or two is always welcome but I rarely actually miss that stuff.
Courage's 100cc Suzuki had put the icing on the cake.