The Yin and Yang of French Polynesia

Yes, French Polynesia is about white, sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water, palm trees and coconuts lying around everywhere for everybody free to eat. Top that with incredibly friendly people, French baguette and croissants and you seriously start wondering why you are still living in Europe.


French Polynesia also has some obscure dark sides which we will lighten up a little bit in this article.

First, there is the risk of getting a disease called “La Gratte” in popular French Polynesian terms, literally meaning “The Scratch”. The scientific name is “ciguatera” and its a foodborne illness poisoning humans caused by eating fish whose flesh is contaminated with a toxin known as ciguatoxin, present in microorganisms living in tropical waters. To put this into normal words: fish eats algue, algue is sick, fish is sick, man eats fish, man sick. The symptoms of the disease are headaches, vomiting, a general state of feeling bad which can last several months (!), but most importantly (and you guessed it already): your skin gets itchy so that you are scratching yourself all over the whole day. Great! And the real dark side about this: you can’t really see if a fish is intoxicated or not. So it’s like playing a biased loto: your changes to win might actually be higher than you think! ;-)

Second, there is a natural wonder called “stonefish” that a local was happy enough to warn us for. We never heard of this fish before, but he talked about it as if it was a monster: “If you get bitten by it, you might get your leg amputated or even die!” were his words.

At first not being too much impressed by his words (believe us, if you learn one thing in travelling over a long time, it’s putting things into context and stay calm…) we took it for some “island talk” and more or less waved it off. But when other islanders also warned us, we started to get a little bit wary.

A quick look at Wikipedia, gave us the following information:

“The stonefish (Synanceia verrucosa), (…) is a carnivorous ray-finned fish with venomous spines that lives on reef bottoms, camouflaged as a rock. It is the most venomous known fish in the world. (…) Its venom causes severe pain with possible shock, paralysis and tissue death depending on the depth of the penetration. (…) The stonefish lives primarily above the Tropic of Capricorn…”


Tahiti is above the Tropic of Capricorn!!!!!!


Why did they even mention this? Why did anybody talk about this? This is paradise! We are in paradise and nothing such as people-hurting fish exist in paradise!!! :-(

The result: In the beginning Vera didn’t want to go into the water at all. No, not even with shoes on… (somebody said they sting through shoes… shouldn’t have said that…). Later she goes in, but not without freaking out a few times (and with shoes on of course). Lucky for her, after a few days, we find a kayak, so she can paddle over the stonefish and jump in the water where it is deeper. Haha! Got you, stupid fish! ;-)

Third: At Tahiti, they eat parrots! Yeah, all coloured and nice, with a cute little beak, beautiful colours and everything. So sad! They especially like to eat them in their “poisson cru”, a local delicacy of raw fish marinated in lemon juice. Yeah fish! Here, they eat parrot fish! ;-)

Ok, bad joke…

But it is those bastards that are the main conveyors of “La Gratte”! So there you go with the dark side of Tahiti again! Maybe living in Europe is not so bad after all… ;-)

But to put everything in a brighter light: we didn’t get La Gratte, we didn’t see any stonefish and we even really enjoyed eating parrot fish a few times! :-)

Vera & Jean-Christophe


  1. Posted June 27, 2008 at 23:40 | Permalink

    Oui, le paradis n’est pas parfait.
    Mais, Jean-Christophe, tu n’as pas entendu le chant des sirènes qui tournent justement autour des Tropiques? Terrrrible!!! Envoutant!!!! Irrrrresistible!!!!! Vera, tu as eu la chance!
    Continuez votre beau voyage en toute sérénité, vous l’avez échappé belle!

  2. Posted June 28, 2008 at 0:43 | Permalink

    Ô si nous l’avons entendu leur chant. Et les polynésiens avec leurs chants, sourires, gentilesse, acceuille et leur accent en français aussi fleuri que leurs parures, nous ont beaucoup envoutés.
    Mais c’est peut-être l’isolement (et nous avons découvert la réalité de ce mot là-bas) de certaines des plus petites îles (comme Fakarava) qui nous a ramené à la réalité de la vie de ces gens. Une vie incroyable !
    Donc tel Ulysse, nous sommes allés écouter le chant de la Polynésie, mais nous nous étions attachés au mat du bateau. :-)

    N.B. : le perroquet cru au jus de citron était vraiment un pur délice, digne d’un met du paradis ;-)

  3. Vera
    Posted June 30, 2008 at 23:25 | Permalink

    @Jean-Daniel: Je m’inquietais pas trop, car Jean-Christophe a le mal de mer, donc il serait revenu vite des sirenes… ;-)