Sara Fondo standing on top of a mountain in Tatra National Park, Zakopane, Poland

Auntie Poline of Fakarava: The 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

Auntie Poline of Fakarava

On an atoll in the Pacific Ocean lives an 83-year-old superstar. She used to travel the world, spellbinding crowds with Tahitian song and dance. Now, she drinks white wine and dishes out life wisdom on the streets of Fakarava. Let me introduce you to Auntie Poline.

“Will you share this with me?” Poline asks me, gesturing towards the bottle of white wine in her hand. Do I want to drink lukewarm wine straight from the bottle with a strange woman, that I’ve just met, you ask? “Of course,” I reply. She hands me the bottle, and I take a swig. The taste? Well, we both know this is not about the wine. It’s about the wild stories that I can tell swirl around this remarkable woman, and I’m here to drink them all up, one swig at a time.

Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

Are you enjoying my content?
Please consider supporting me by buying me a cup of coffee, or a pizza! 🙂

Bonafide Badass

“I’m Auntie Poline,” she says, “I’m Sara,” I reply as I take in the view of this woman who easily surpasses her surroundings in beauty. Her hair is held in a graceful bun on top of her head, a nest of grey and white with the occasional streaks of yellow. A white tiare flower is nestled behind her right ear, signifying her status as a single woman. The lines on her face? They’re like a road map, each wrinkle telling a tale that would make your wildest adventure seem like a Sunday stroll. She’s wearing a moss green t-shirt with lace edges, adorned with the gentle touch of light pink flowers, brown shorts and yellow flip-flops – the embodiment of the tranquil island aesthetic.

At first glance, Poline might seem like an old, fragile woman as the veins dance on top of her skin when she raises the bottle of white wine to take a swig. But let me tell you this, there’s nothing vulnerable about Auntie Poline. This woman is a living legend, a bonafide badass of a bygone era. At 83 years young, she’s an old hand at wandering this big blue planet, just like yours truly. And though I’m sure some might call her the village eccentric, I call her one of the most intriguing characters I’ve met in a long time. Why? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar
Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

The Tahitian Superstar

It’s 1940, and a woman gives birth to a little baby girl on the atoll of Fakarava. No one knew it at the time, but by the age of 15 this girl would leave home only to return many, many years later, having charmed the whole world and soaked up the essence of countless destinations and souls. “I have been everywhere,” Poline utters as her hands move in opposite directions, creating half a circle, “Australia, France, USA, China, Hawaii,” she adds, “all over the world.” Poline is the type of woman who’s lived a life that would put any seasoned traveler to shame. But how does a young Polynesian woman, living in such a remote place, become a world-traveler during an era where traveling is such a rarity still? Thanks to her voice.

Exactly how Poline was discovered, I’m not sure, there are some things she has a hard time explaining to me because her brain simply no longer holds that information. When I asked Poline about her age, she replied, “what year is it?” So, she’s forgotten certain years and names. But the magic? Oh, that hasn’t gone anywhere. The further I dig into her memory, the brighter it shines through her eyes.

This I know; Poline left French Polynesia with a couple, and she spent years captivating crowds with Tahitian song and dance. Picture this: A young woman stands alone on stage. Her skin, a warm cocoa color, her hair, dark as the inky night sky, her aura, innocent, yet demanding. The spotlight follows her every move as does every set of eyes in the room. When she starts to sing, you’re no longer in France, you’re barefoot on some tropical beach, enchanted by the exoticness of this foreign beauty.

You can listen to Auntie Poline’s music here

The more Poline and I talk, the more memories start to ooze out from her mental treasure chest. Shwwsssh, shwwwsssh. Poline’s big, bright laughter penetrates my ears like an avalanche of mirth as she mimics having skiing poles in her hands. “I went skiing in Colorado,” Poline tells me, her eyes now wet from memories. I get the sense that Colorado resides somewhere special in Poline’s heart, but besides her going skiing there, I can’t quite make out why that is. Though later in our conversation, I believe I unlock the answer to my question.

“Out of all the places you’ve been, Auntie Poline, which has been your favorite?” Poline rests her hand on top of mine, her piercing eyes looking straight into my soul. Then, her face lights up like a burst of sunshine on a cloudy day, and she stomps her skinny feet to the ground twice. Fakarava, baby. Fakarava is the answer. Maybe it’s true after all when they say there’s no place like home.

Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar
Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

Bittersweet Memory

“What made you come all the way out here?” Poline asks me, full of vim and vigor. “To meet people like you,” I reply, watching the crows feet at her eyes grow more profound as her face curls upwards into a smile. “I want to see the world, just like you did, I want to meet people, expand my horizon, go on adventures, feel something new,” I say and pause for a second, “feel it all,” I add. Poline nods as she turns her head towards the lagoon, a look of longing painted on her face as she drinks in the crystal blue view.

Poline and I sit in silence for a wee while, taking a few swigs of the lukewarm white wine. One whopping sip slaps me in the face like a rogue wave. It’s sweet and tart, like a bittersweet memory of places and faces this woman has encountered on her journey through life, kissed by the sun and caressed by the salty sea breeze.

“What made you come all the way out here?” Poline asks me as if we hadn’t just had that conversation. It seems that our conversation gets reset whenever I take a pause to just be here, right next to Auntie Poline, instead of constantly shooting questions at her. But I learn something new every time, we start over.

For example, Poline is called auntie because “you come to Auntie Poline if you need something.” 1, 2, 3, 4. At least a handful of times, Poline interrupts our conversation to make sure that I have a place to stay. And if I don’t? I’m coming home with her. But her heartstrings stretches much farther than that. “Can I adopt you?” Poline chuckles as she gently strokes my cheek, and now I’m the one being teary-eyed. Does she see that after all the healing I’ve tried to do, I’m still chaotically lost, just roaming around this big blue planet because I haven’t found my place of belonging? “I’d like that,” I respond as I close my eyes briefly and fill my lungs with the salty air of the South Pacific. I believe we call it to savor the moment.

Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar
Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

Love, Loss and Everything In-between

There are a lot of details about Poline’s life that I tried to unravel, but my attempts were without success. When did she return to Fakarava? Poline doesn’t recall. Where is all her family now? Poline is not entirely sure. But I did pick up a few pieces about Poline’s love and family relations to be able to put together an incomplete mosaic on this era of her life.

“I was married to the director of Pan Am!” Poline says as she claps her hands together, giggling like a mischievous sprite sharing a secret, “I went everywhere!” she adds as her hands move in opposite directions, creating half a circle, “Australia, France, USA,” she adds, “all over the world.” Poline tells me that her husband was Australian, but when I Google late directors of Pan Am, I can’t find any of Australian heritage. Not that I doubt Poline’s story. But maybe he was a pilot and not the director? That would explain how she digested so many destinations, becoming the badass world-traveler that she is.

“Do you have any kids, Auntie Poline?”, she lifts her hand and curls three of her fingers, “I have a boy,” she says, her eyes glistening like they were in a race against the water’s surface, “and a girl,” she adds, “they were born in Hawaii.” Hawaii? Yeah, so apparently Poline birthed her children in Hawaii and her kids grew up there. But where are they now? According to Poline they either A. live there still, or B. live in Denver, Colorado. That’s why I made the connection between her yearning eyes as she spoke about Denver, telling me about her skiing, and something otherwise special taking place there.

“They never come to visit,” Poline says, talking about her two kids, “they don’t want to come visit,” she continues, “they say mum, there’s nothing here.” It’s clear that Poline disagrees with that statement as she starts looking around, “but that is mine,” Poline makes a swooping motion to the right with her arm towards the far end of the motu, “and that is mine,” her other arm swoops to the left, “it’s all mine,” she says, “oh, you own all this land?” I offer, “it’s all mine,” she replies, her eyes widening as they meet mine.

Poline tells me that she inherited it from her grandmother, whose name she has forgotten. After a brief pause Poline adds “I want to sell it, I need to,” I look startled on Poline, why would anyone ever want to sell a piece of paradise? Well, because what would an old woman do with land that’s too far away for her to even visit herself? Besides, she wants to give her kids the money, she would earn from it. “And what happened to your husband?” I ask, wondering where in the timeline he disappeared. Pfffffhhhh. Poline makes a dismissive movement with her hand. That’s the answer I get.

Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar
Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

Life Wisdom with Auntie Poline

Sometimes it seems that Poline runs like a tape-recorder. You can tell that she has said these things a thousand times before. Rewind. Press play. Rewind. Press play. I don’t mind, I still soak up every bit of information this woman gives me like a thirsty sponge. But it’s easy for me to tell when I break through the script in her mind.

At one point, I shoot a series of questions at Poline, hoping to get some life wisdom; “if you could relive one moment, which would it be?” Pffffffhhhhh. Poline’s hand makes a dismissive motion. None. There’s no going back for Poline, not even to Denver, she is content where she is. “When have you felt the happiest?” Not in France, nor in Hawaii. Not as a singer, nor as a traveler. Again, Poline ain’t having none of my digging. But when I ask her, “are you happy?” she looks at me for a while, like really looks at me. The high tide returns to her eyes. “I like your questions,” she responds, and at this moment, there’s no doubt in my mind, that she is here with me.

“Life is everything,” Poline says, pouring some lukewarm white wine down her throat, “life is everything,” she says again, “it’s the people who complicate it,” she finishes. I think what Poline is trying to tell me, is that life is not linear, it’s a dynamic, it’s wild, it’s up, and it’s down, and it will most likely fuck you up more than once. But that’s the magic of it, isn’t it? Life was never about your career, nor your family, your love life, nor your looks, your successes, nor your failures. It was simply about it all.

Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar
Meet Auntie Poline of Fakarava - the 83-year-old Tahitian Superstar

An Unforgettable Swig

I ask Poline if I can take some photos and videos of her, and she says yes. As I squat in front of her, camera pointed at her, I believe she is transported to a different time. She giggles and puts her hands to her face, seemingly shy but loving the attention. There’s the superstar, I think to myself. Then, something happens. I no longer think it’s just me and Poline beneath this big tree; I think nostalgia has entered the conversation. In a soft voice, Poline starts to sing in Tahitian for me. “That’s beautiful,” I exclaim, Poline now wiping away tears from her eyes.

The vibrant water in the lagoon has taken on a subtle greenish hue as the sun moves closer to the horizon. I look at Poline, this loving woman with such a caring heart, wandering the streets of Fakarava, making sure everybody is taken care of – but who takes care of her, I think to myself? The only thing that gives me comfort, is knowing that the Polynesian community is very tight-knit.

There’s one last thing I want to ask Poline, before I have to go, “if you could give me one life advice, Auntie Poline, what would it be?” After a brief pause, Poline lost in thought, she replies, “appreciate life,” her face now glowing like a freshly picked tiare flower. And at this moment, having spent my afternoon with this eccentric, intriguing, wise woman, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Scuba Diving in Bora Bora: Ultimate Guide scuba-diving-in-bora-bora-ultimate-guide
Scuba Diving in Bora Bora: Ultimate Guide

This is your ultimate guide to scuba diving in Bora Bora. Whether you're a beginner looking to take …

Mount Rotui Hiking Trail: Best Hike in Moorea
Mount Rotui Hiking Trail: Best Hike in Moorea

Mount Rotui Hiking Trail is the most challenging yet rewarding hike on the island of Moorea in Frenc…

Best Hiking Trail in Moorea: Three Coconuts Pass (Col Des Trois Cocotiers)
Best Hiking Trail in Moorea: Three Coconuts Pass

Three Coconuts Pass is easily the best hiking trail in Moorea. Why? It's challenging yet fun and off…

Best Snorkeling Spot in Taha'a
Best Snorkeling Spot in Taha’a: Ultimate Guide

Looking for the best snorkeling spot in Taha'a? This guide has all the information you need about dr…

Best Snorkeling Spot in Moorea, French Polynesia
Best Snorkeling Spot in Moorea: Ultimate Guide

Looking for the best snorkel spot in Moorea? This guide has all the information you need about snork…

Photo of The Three Waterfalls in Raiatea, French Polynesia
My Craziest Hitchhiking Experience

Buckle up because I’m about to take you on a wild ride in Raiatea. This is the tale of an unexpected…

1 2 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *