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La grande finale, or finishing on a high rope: Oceania Odyssey Week 22

 

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La grande finale, or finishing on a high rope: Oceania Odyssey Week 22
Paopao, French Polynesia to Toronto, Canada (182km cycling, for a grand Oceania total of 5,882km by bike)

If Ed hadn’t already helped write a humour book about first-world problems – those trivial complaints that reveal just how fortunate we truly are, like standing in front of a full fridge and saying there’s nothing to eat – this would have been a perfect addition.

imagePerched on a palm-covered mountainside on a South Pacific island paradise, at the end of a rugged rainforest waterfall hike, we sampled nectar-like fruit juices and flavour-packed jams freshly concocted from a tropical garden, with a bowl of ice cream made from taro root.

Then we realized that – gasp – we had forgotten our snorkel gear and would break our streak of ten straight days swimming with tropical fishes.

Two weeks in Moorea have spoiled us good.

imageBut as the luxurious last leg of our six-month family adventure drew nearer to its end, we doubled down to ensure that we sapped every last ounce of juice from this precious opportunity. We scaled mountains, swung from trees, snuck in every treat we saw, and didn’t come home until nightfall.

image“There’s more to Moorea than the ocean,” we’d been told by a local woman just before we reluctantly ripped ourselves away from our beachfront hut and into the mountainy middle of the island. Thankfully, some prescient pre-planning by Jocelyn landed us in the perfect spot to explore inland: a very bumpy dirt road from our rainforest retreat cabin was our shortcut to a newly opened system of hiking trails that snake through the numerous valleys and up to some of the highest rocky peaks. One day we trekked through pineapple fields and Polynesian archeological sites (how exactly does one answer, “What’s a human sacrifice, Daddy?”) to a belvedere peering over both of the island’s trademark bays. imageThe next, we biked up to the same lookout (foolishly, we thought at first, as we sweated up the super-steep road with motorized scooters breezing past) and hiked further up to the island’s spine, from which we could see both north and south coasts and neighbouring Tahiti as well. The rushing streams we had to cross, scraggly root-and-boulder terrain and summit within reach of the clouds made it our consensus favourite hike of the whole trip.

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imageAnd of course, we returned each day to the coast for more snorkelling as the locals danced on the beach until sunset, a visit to the local juice factory for more sampling (we each brought home a carton of our favourite), coconut water straight from the coconut, and a tub of pistachio ice cream – you know, just to be sure we took in all the flavours of the island.

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We packed our days full, using thoughts of the to-do list on our fridge back home and the line-of-credit payments coming due on our return as incentive to live it up to the fullest. We had the first restaurant meal of our whole journey on our second-last night, introducing the boys to street pizza and orange Fanta, and cycling home under the light of a magical full moon. And our last day began with a trip into the trees.

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imageThe boys have gazed longingly every time we pass a high-ropes adventure course in New Zealand and Australia, most of which have been prohibitively pricey for our budget. But by pure fate, the same departure point for our mountain hikes is also home to a new Tiki Parc with tightropes and ziplines galore. So we strapped on harnesses and zoomed about in the gigantic pine trees – Sitka leaving all his fellow under-8-year-olds in the dust on the kids’ track, and Heron abandoning his usual hesitation to launch himself into this exciting new world of high ropes.

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imageAnother reason we’ve been so psyched to spend our last weeks in French Polynesia has been the French. For five months, we’ve been speaking French with the boys in anticipation of their unorthodox entry into French Immersion in the fall (in Heron’s case, this means making up for the three years of French he missed while doing the HomeLearners program). The boys have been less than enthused to learn how to conjugate verbs while there have been many more exciting, relevant things to learn while on the road in Oceania. Of all the world-schooling we have done on this trip, this is the only part that has been met with groans and resistance, despite our assurances that this language is in fact used in many parts of the world. But finally being immersed in a gorgeous country where everyone speaks French, has suddenly brought the language to life for them, especially to Heron who now has an ever-developing business plan to start a bilingual bike tour and adventure race company in Moorea for his post-high-school gap year. The months of repeating vocabulary and conjugating verbs on the bikes have exploded into full sentences, jokes, and conversations. It’s an immensely satisfying feeling (and relief!) for each of us (even Sitka, who will ask anyone he meets if he can please have a cucumber).

imageWe awoke on our last morning and emerged from our mosquito nets with heavy hearts. When we return to Canada we will still have a month of cycling, cottaging and visiting family in Muskoka before we return to Vancouver, but this feels like the end of our epic adventure to us. We had a late-morning ferry to catch back to Tahiti (finally, we surrendered to responsible scheduling and nixed a last-minute juice factory tour several kilometres in the opposite direction), then to the airport for a roundabout journey via New Zealand to Los Angeles and finally Toronto. We dismantled our tandems in under an hour, and had our bags rearranged and packed in two – a well-synced machine of bike-travel efficiency. And after we checked in for our flight (the old-fashioned way, with live people taking our passports, giving our boarding passes and tagging our bags in under five minutes, instead of the modern automated version that takes much longer and still tells you to seek staff assistance in the end), and experienced our final stroke of serendipitous good luck.

imageBlocking the security entrance was an assembling group of women in bright yellow tops and skirts, with elaborate flower headdresses and an accompanying circle of drummers. We thought this might be a normal feature of the departure experience, until everyone in the tiny airport stopped to watch.

“This only happens a few times a year,” one of the merchants told us. “They must be saying good-bye to a family member who’s leaving the island. They must be someone pretty special.”

Soon, a young family with rolling suitcases was engulfed by the dancers, the drumbeats filling the humid air with joyous celebration. We later learned they were French civil servants who had wrapped a three-year secondment to Tahiti. The extraordinary farewell – so much love and effusive friendship – was a memory they would carry home forever. And our good-byes to loved ones will forever feel inadequate.

imageHowever, the lasting lesson we’ve taken most from our epic family bike ride is precisely that: make every moment count. And we feel pretty sure that we’ve done that.

Early last February, these countries were just maps. Now we know each dot and line, each town and coastline, as intimately as our hometown (even Kiwis and Aussies told us we’ve traveled to more of their country than they have).

imageAs a family we’re solid. We’re four individuals whose lives will always interconnect, but never as much as they have over these 162 days and nearly 6,000km of cycling. Our school-aged sons still love to sit on our laps, they still cackle at Ed’s jokes, they’ve heard more of our stories then we ever thought they would want to, and they have shared so many of their thoughts, questions and dreams with us.

imageNo matter where we go from here (including Europe in about five years for another year-long cycling tour, the boys assure us), we have these vivid memories to come back to as our family. And if we ever forget, we have the photo slideshow on our laptop, with the Hedley and Justin Bieber soundtrack playing along.

Years from now, when our sons have moved away and started their own families, we’ll yearn for these moments just the four of us. A unit. A team. And we’ll know we made the most of it.

Every thought of cowshit-covered sandals will crack us up. Every still frame in our mind of a summit lookout will make us proud. And every time we remember the morning hugs in our little four-person tent, we’ll tear up.

What a trip.

imageHeron’s Week 22 Summary: “What a nice week to finish it all off – juice factory, tiki parc, dancing, more kayaking and snorkelling! I can’t believe that I was ziplining 10 meters off the ground through the trees! I am so sad that the trip is over, but I am looking forward to coming back in 10 years. I am going to miss being in a new place every day. But I am really excited to go to the cottage and see everybody.”

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imageSitka’s Week 22 Summary: “It wasn’t very fun to have to finish the trip. I really liked getting to know so many new animals and exploring every day. Everything was so fun and I am going to miss it so much. Moorea was my favourite place of the whole trip – I really like the Tarzan swing at tiki parc and all the hikes this week.”

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7 Comments

  1. Sara Viale says:

    Well done, WHAT an adventure.In five years time I shall be hanging out to hear your cycling adventures in Europe.

    Enjoy the next part of your holidays in Canada and catching up with family and friends, another ADVENTURE. Much love GASM XXXXX
    Laurieton, Australia.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Way to go guys!! You had the vision for naturopathic school snd completed it, had the vision for this trip of a lifetime and completed it, you guys rock!! And I cried alittle reading that it’s the end of your journey. I will welcome you back to Canadian soil but so can’t wait to see you back in Vancouver!!

  3. Calinda says:

    I have been looking forward to reading your blog posts, I’m sorry they will be ending. But so glad that you enjoyed such an amazing trip.

  4. Lucy Klein Horsman says:

    What an incredible trip with so many amazing memories! I will miss reading about your journey each week, but, I look forward to catching up with you again! Welcome home to Canada!

  5. Jazz says:

    What a beautiful post, magnificent scenery and inspiring stories. Joss and Ed you are the best parents ever two adventurous boys could ever have! We will miss your sprits and stories in the pacific, but look forward to catching up for some camping and cycling fun in the future.

  6. Kevin, Hokitika says:

    This is an amazing achievement accomplished with finesse, aplomb, panache (plus good planning, and doubtless hard labour) all wonderfully told in this blog.

    It is clear the boys were more than baggage or mere passengers dragged along by their parents. Do they realize what they have achieved?

    Well done all, and thanks for sharing!

  7. Robin says:

    I felt a bit of your sorrow at ending such a wonderful journey and was uplifted by your summary. Thank you for taking me along, you have made the most of every experience and broken down barriers that allow lives to meander safely into normal. Bravo

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