All Alone in Paradise: Motu Teta

Staff Photographer Jon Whittle was somehow given the choice assignment to live for a week on a private island in Rangiroa, Tahiti. We won’t make that mistake again, but at least the result produced some beautiful photos and entertaining commentary.

Let’s be honest here, I drank a lot on the plane and now I’ve somehow awoken on a boat motoring away the airport on the island of Rangiroa, Tahiti. If I remember correctly from the itinerary I was sent, I’m bound for Motu Teta, one of the most remote private island getaways in all of French Polynesia. I’m just hoping they have Tylenol. Five days on the island by myself, here I come!Jon Whittle
So this is really happening. This is my island. In fact I read in the brochure that Motu Teta means ‘Where King Jon Holds Court Over the South Pacific’. I’m joking, of course, there is no brochure. But just look at this place: the water is so clear that it looks like a promotional video on one of those 4k TV sets at Best Buy that I can’t afford. The wind through the pines sing a warm song about my long drunken journey, birds take to the air to rejoice my arrival, and shark fins slip in and out of the water around us in some sort of wonderful aquatic happy dance. I’ve come home.Jon Whittle
This can’t be my room. At least that’s what I keep telling myself as I wait for the Tylenol to kick in. A king sized bed with one of those romantic-as-hell mosquito nets hanging from one of the most beautiful dark wood ceilings I’ve ever seen. As a journalist I’m usually stuffed into a broom closet and told to get over it, but not here. On Motu Teta, I’m finally somebody.Jon Whittle
This is seriously my view. I’m not kidding. Really, I’m not. This is actually what it looks like when I’ve regained the strength to get out of bed and walk toward the light. Nothing between my feet and the ocean but four wooden steps, fifteen hermit crabs, two or three razor sharp shell fragments, and 10 feet of sand. I could stay here forever, become Tahitian by proxy, and live in luxury until time as we know it comes to a cataclysmic end. Spoiler alert: they make me go home in four days.Jon Whittle
My host Celine (one of three other people on the island) walks toward me on the dock with a look of warning on her face than can only mean: ‘look, cretin, I can throw you off this island any time I choose’ but she turns out to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She reminds me of my mother. Celine always has a flower in her hair and a smile on her face, though I once saw her brutally murder a hermit crab to use it for bait. I remind myself to delight in her presence but always be aware that she can crush me if I misbehave.Jon Whittle
When Tahitians go out to experience the wonders of nature, they bring fish heads and a length of rope. Island guide Heiarii is just big enough to make me comfortable with the fact that we’re about to lasso a shark. He’s a warm, large, lovable guy, who is incredibly huge, has a wonderful singing voice, is the size of a refrigerator, plays the ukulele beautifully, and towers over me like a perfectly tanned skyscraper. I’m subtly suggesting he’s a large dude that lassoes sharks. I trust Heiarii implicitly and will stick by his side at all costs. I also know that if we get into trouble I will climb him like a tree and shriek while he pounds whatever frightens me into submission. I suspect he knows this as well.Jon Whittle
Big man, little snails. We'v spent all morning catching marine snails for dinner and the result is a bucket the size of my head. Catching snails is the type of challenge that I’m up for, as the main act of ‘catching them’ just requires stooping down and grabbing them out of the shallow water. I am an expert at low impact activities and between the two of us we gather up enough snails for a small feast. Believe it or not, they were delicious. A little chewy, but really, really tasty, You should try snails is all I’m saying.Jon Whittle
The owner of Motu Teta who shall remain nameless (please send bribery checks to Jon Whittle), has made a concerted effort to help save the coconut crab. You may have heard of it before. It’s a giant crab that looks like a psychedelically colored hermit crab on steroids that recently got evicted from its shell. In Samoa I’ve seen them big enough to cover a garbage can lid. They have claws that can snap a human bone, but made the critical error of tasting delicious. That’s what you get when you feast primarily on coconuts. As a result, humans have eaten them into depressingly low numbers, which is, I believe, an argument for these crustaceans to switch their diet to something less appealing. Thus, whenever island employees come across coconut crabs on other islands, they bring them back to Motu Teta to live out peaceful lives.Jon Whittle
This baby white tern (or gygis alba for you science nerds) just wants to be left alone. His mother is off all day with her bird friends while this little fella doesn’t even have a nest to stay warm. He just sort of shivers in the wind and tries not to fall to his death from this bare branch while he builds up a whole laundry list of excuses that he’ll one day present to the court as to why he wound up killing that other bird. Mother issues, the jury will whisper to one another, and they’ll be right. But for now, he just wants to be left alone to be adorable in the soft morning light.Jon Whittle
If you’re a shark fearing person, Tahiti may not be right for you. These little guys are everywhere! I even had one in my shower, but that was obviously because I put it there. Still though, the wonders of the ocean are always made just a little bit more magnificent by the sharp outline of a shark cutting its way through the reef while tiny fishes shit themselves and scatter in their presence. Heiarii refers to them as his pets, and I believe it.Jon Whittle
If this picture looks blurry to you then you’re probably as lit up as I was when I took it. This spot is mysteriously called ‘the spot’ and is probably the most awesome spot in the entire world. If you so desire you can have many, many cocktails under its roof while having the tropical breezes cool your ever-dehydrating body. It’s on a tiny little island all its own, separated from Motu Teta by a little fast moving channel that is either called the ‘lap pool’ if you’re a strong swimmer or, in my case, ‘that deep spot that almost sucked me out to sea’. If you make the journey out to Motu Teta, I strongly suggest that you invest some quality hours into doing absolutely nothing in this perfect little piece of the world. Sure you’ll be wasting time, but I promise you it won’t be time wasted.Jon Whittle