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From the Field
Expedition: Dangerous Archipelago
Kayaking French Polynesia's Tuamotu Islands

Explorer Jon Bowermaster sends dispatches from the deep South (Pacific).

Dispatch 8: Hitchhiking on the South Pacific

October 24, 2002

[Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or copyedit field dispatches.]

We arrived in Napuka, the last atoll we'll see on this 2,500-mile [4,023-kilometer] hitchhiking ride weve taken with this cargo boat in the South Pacific. It's the furthest island from Tahiti—both distance-wise and Westernized-wise. The people there were not less friendly but were less cognizant of white people. Certainly no tourists go there. Very few visitors from outside of Tahiti arrive there. So we found it to be a little strange being on this island for a day.

When we pulled away we had a 60 hour ride back from Napuka to Tahiti. It was a good opportunity to think about just how out there we had been for these past 18 days and about how much the world has gotten smaller. This was a part of the world that was first seen by Westerners in the early 1500s and not really explored until 200 years later in the late 1700s. Now, in the course of the last 250 years, its amazing the reach of the Western world into it.

We were looking for a Coke in Napuka. We went into one of the two shops on the island, and the boxes that were being carried in off the boat all carried very familiar manufacturing names, like Frito Lay and R.J. Reynolds and Coca-Cola. Most of these people have televisions and satellite dishes despite the fact that everything on these islands arrives by boat, from backhoes and the couple cars to all the building materials.

From Napuka it was a straight 60-hours at sea with little sight of land until we got close to the big island of Tahiti, which is amazing. For the past almost three weeks we've seen nothing but low-lying atolls with just palm trees breaking the horizon. And Tahiti is a big, mountainous island with a 7,000-foot [2,137-meter] peak on it.

As we pulled into Tahiti it was great to pass by the historical bays where the early Westerners had arrived, past Venus Point where Cook had arrived to do his science, pass Bounty Bay where the Bounty was anchored prior to the mutiny, and to [see] Matavai Bay where Bougainville and Wallis first landed in 1767.

It was great to be back as close to civilization as we get here, but also remarkable to have had the experience of being so far out there in the middle of the South Pacific for so many days, to get a real sense of what life is like out on these islands and what life is like on this cargo boat as it makes its rounds every month.

I guess when I talk to you next it will be from Tahiti.

—Jon Bowermaster

Click map to enlarge

Look for Jon Bowermaster's feature article on kayaking the Dangerous Archipelago in a future issue of Adventure. Subscribe Now and Save 62 percent off the cover price >>

Funding for this expedition was provided by the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council. For more information on the Council, its projects, and grants, e-mail ecouncil@ngs.org.


Map by NG Maps
  The Team
  Photo Gallery
  Dispatch 1
  Dispatch 2
  Dispatch 3
  Dispatch 4
  Dispatch 5
  Dispatch 6
  Dispatch 7
  • Dispatch 8


Audio: Out There (3:02)
"We arrived in Napuka, the last atoll well see on this 2,500-mile [4,023-kilometer] hitchhiking ride weve taken with this cargo boat in the South Pacific."
RealPlayer: 28.8 | 56.6

Download RealPlayer

Related Web Sites

Ask the Expedition Advisor
Jon Bowermaster fielded reader's questions on planning an out-there adventure.

Descending the Dragon
Hear Bowermaster's dispatches from his kayak odyssey down the Vietnam coast.

Dispatches From the Birthplace of the Winds
See photos and hear dispatches from the expedition that inspired Bowermaster's new book, Birthplace of the Winds.

Video: Bowermaster on His Aleutian Odyssey
Find out what it took to take Alaska's Islands of the Four Mountains by kayak.

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