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Published: June 14th 2019
‘As you move through this life you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you’ –Anthony Bourdain
Tahiti - Discovered by Samuel Wallis in 1767 and sung about by David Essex in Mutiny on the Bounty, this is the largest and highest of the French Polynesian archipelago and lies approximately half way between Los Angeles in the USA and Sydney in Australia. A harbour at Pape’ete was built in 1962. Welcome to Tahiti’s principle town and capital of the entire 1,600 islands of French Polynesia. We docked at 8am and stayed until 6am the following morning. Not sure why as it’s not as if many of the passengers are going to go out clubbing during our stay!
Pape’ete (pronounced Pahp-ay-et-ay) or as the New Zealander port guide presenter kept pronouncing it, Pap-eet, is home to a population of just under 28,000. That makes up 20%!o(MISSING)f the total inhabitants of Tahiti.
Our last visit to the island nine years ago was not a great success. We failed to maximise the activities and attractions we were led to believe Tahiti had to offer. Our main fault was that
we were unable to secure a map of the town. The outcome of this being the acronym ‘WALLS’ (Wandering Around Like Lost Souls!)
The currency of French Polynesia is the Central Pacific Franc. Unlike Bora Bora where I managed to pay using the U.S. Dollar, most places in Pape’ete and other islands we will be visiting in the coming days only accept the local currency. Rather than using an ATM, we still had currency left from Australia and New Zealand. This amounted to £32.00 sterling. There are no Bureau de Changes in Pape’ete (well not legal ones anyway!!) so, after securing a map (yay!) from the portside information centre we headed to the Banque de Tahiti, the only official outlet to change money.
Wow!! So many people so few tellers. Most people in front of us, had an envelope containing documents. Never a good sign if you want a fast-moving queue. It wasn’t helped by one of the two tellers disappearing for a few minutes after serving a customer. I didn’t realise someone can have so many fag breaks in such a short time!! Finally, after fifty minutes, I made it to the counter and handed both sets
of notes over. Things started off good. He counted the currencies and tapped something in to his computer. He then wrote something on to a pad, looked up and said: ‘I’m sorry sir but it is not really worth changing this money as the charges would be too great for changing such a small amount of currency.’ ‘How much?’
I asked. ‘US$28…per currency’
‘For f**k sake!!’ I responded unable to hide my frustration. ‘It would have been nice to have known this before I wasted an hour queuing. OK, fine’,
I said as the teller handed back my currencies.
As we walked down the main street in search of an ATM we felt a few spots of rain. We started to walk a little faster. The rain seemed to keep pace with us as it continued to fall, only more persistent!! By the time we spotted a cash machine, the rain was in full flow. The cash machine was adjacent to an indoor market. Cash secured; we entered the market. This open plan, well designed market provided a lot of natural light. There was plenty of space between stalls selling a variety of
local produce; fruit and veg, crafts, soaps and cosmetics as well as catering for the tourist. Roisin spotted a stall selling genuine Tahitian grass skirts. I told her to get one if she felt like going native. She said that she was actually thinking about me as she knew how I love to dress up!!
On leaving the market, the rain had eased off. Oh no! Wait! It started to come down even heavier this time. We still ended up wandering around like lost souls as we did all those years ago. And that’s even with having a map. The torrential rain hadn’t helped. Previously, I had taken the SD card from my camera and forgot to replace it. At the time it was a big disaster but on reflection, having only taken two photos this time, now I’m not too sure!! It was hot and humid and now wet. Not a pleasant combination but still we persevered in search of that wow factor. We passed the town hall and the 19th
century wooden Notre Dame cathedral. We wandered down a few of the back streets but there was just nothing picturesque to take. We gave it our best
shot but it was time to return to the ship.
At the bottom of the gangway, a stall had been set up (by Holland America) with complimentary water or lemonade. The rain had now stopped and the clouds were dispersing to reveal an azure blue sky. The humidity was still energy sapping. Whilst we were standing taking a well-earned lemonade, our old mate David Copperfield was making his way down the gang way. ‘Hello there!’
, I said with the informality of a casual acquaintance. ‘I thought you were disembarking today’. ‘I’m being picked up at 4am tomorrow morning’,
he replied as he took a lemonade from the stall.
The three of us continued to chat for the next twenty minutes whilst sipping our lemonades. David explained how he is now formally retired so he can please himself what he does. He referred to himself as still employable but unsackable. He is flying from Tahiti to Los Angeles to visit his daughter before flying directly to Rome where he’d pick up another ship and perform a few more shows.
That evening in the main dining room, a Chinese passenger was addressing the waiter in rather a
loud voice: ‘Mo Salah! Mo Salah
!’ The waiter, rather embarrassingly replied: I’m sorry but I don’t understand.’
At that point I interjected, ‘I think he’s saying you look like Mo Salah’ ‘No! No!’
said the Chinese gentleman. ‘I wan mo salah. Two piece cucumber, tomato, onion. One piece lettuce. No enough, Mo salah, pleeze!’
The waiter and I looked at each other ‘Ahh
!’ We both exclaimed in unison!!
After our dinner and as we were staying overnight, we decided to take a stroll to the nearby main square. We had read that every night one can find food trucks here as well as occasionally Polynesian dancing. The food trucks were a daily occurrence but the entertainment had been organised by the Tahitian Tourist Board to coincide with the visit of cruise ships to this port. The bad weather of this morning was now forgotten and this made for a very pleasant evening. The time was 9pm and the square was busy but not over crowded. We saw a few of our new friends mingling with tourists and locals alike, sitting near one of the trucks enjoying some of the authentic local cuisine.
The female dancers were dressed
in traditional Tahitian grass skirts whilst most of the male dancers displayed tattoos from full torso coverage to shoulder and upper arm designs. Some of the men also displayed an array of sharks’ teeth around their neck. The more teeth they displayed, the more respected they were within their tribe. The males lined up and performed a Haka. This was originally a war cry where the enemies had to face the tribe as this war dance and aggressive chanting was performed. Any emotion displayed was a sign of weakness. Other dances were performed and then came the usual audience participation. I had made myself scarce by this time. Some of the women sat on the ground whilst they demonstrated simple craft techniques. Again, they offered anyone who was willing to: ‘try their hand…’
Back on ship and a show featuring more Polynesian dancing was headlining in the main theatre. This time by a different troupe. At one stage, the females looked remarkably like Pans People. I could imagine them dancing to some novelty record in the 70s that had made it on to the hit parade. In another dance, the males lifted and held one of the females horizontally
above their heads. This either signified an offering to the Gods or it was a very early form of body surfing!!
‘Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travellers don’t know where they’re going’ – Paul Theroux
We departed Pape’ete at 5:30am. Some sturdy passengers were on deck as we dropped our lines to witness the sunrise over Tahiti. We didn’t even make the sail in to Moorea at 8am, the next island on our itinerary.
At breakfast we spoke to a surprisingly fresh looking waiter who told us he didn’t get back on board until 2:30am and then had to report for duty at 5am. He was the sensible one although his colleagues may have called him a ‘lightweight’ as they didn’t return until 4am!!
The name Mo’orea is derived from a Tahitian word meaning Yellow Lizard: (Mo'o = lizard and Re'a = yellow) and is approximately ten miles wide, west to east. Like many other islands in these parts the first Europeans to arrive on the island were the Englishmen Samuel Wallis and James Cook in the latter half of the 18th
century. Two equally sized bays of approximately 3km wide on
the north side of the island gives it a butterfly shaped look. One of the bays was called Cook’s Bay, the other known as Opunoha Bay. We dropped anchor in the 80m deep Opunoha Bay.
We had been here before so we were in no hurry to get off the ship as we knew what was waiting for us shoreside. (It rhymes with Rugger ball!!) Therefore, we were less inclined to leave our comfortable surroundings.
Despite being overcast with a layer of low lying cloud, it still remained hot and humid. Mt Tohivea succumbed to the weather as the clouds descended and obliterated, as if consuming, everything that got in its way. We saw pockets of rain out at sea and sure enough around mid-day, the rain came. It so pleases us when we encounter torrential rain stopping us from going ashore. We don’t feel like we’ve wasted a day!! The rain ceased around 2pm, Roisin confirmed that the sea conditions were right so we decided to stretch our legs and go for a tender ride.
On arrival at the quay we walked through the obligatory stalls that where primarily trying to peddle ‘real’ black pearl jewellery
(there were actually notices that said: All jewellery real – no fakes here!!)
We walked up a narrow tarmacked road with a small parish church near the waterside. With a local coffee shop and café on the corner, we reached the coast road that circumvented the island. Loosely based on the highway code we looked right, then left then right again, all was clear (clear of houses, clear of shops, clear of anything remotely interesting!!), so we turned around and headed back to the tender!!
At the 4pm trivia session, Debbie and Rick, a couple from Florida told us about their ship’s excursion on a 4 x 4 SUV. This was supposed to be an off-road experience. Less of an experience, more of an ordeal!! After ten minutes cruising down an asphalted highway, the car then turned on to a gravel dirt track and proceeded to bounce its way up an uneven mountainside. The vehicle ground to a halt and the passengers had to walk the last 100m up a steep rise using a rope to help pull them up whilst getting pissed on!! (heavy precipitation!!) This would have been a challenge for someone in full hiking gear
let alone Debbie who, for some reason best known to herself, had decided to wear her flip flops!!
At trivia’s 7pm get-together (we only seem to socialise during trivia!!) Bill and Dawn (strangely also from Florida!!) told us about their ship’s excursion for a round trip of the island. They went to a local vantage point called Belvedere’s Lookout but today there was no vantage and Belvederes Look Out didn’t live up to its description (i.e. there was nothing to ‘look out’
French Polynesia covers a vast area the size of Western Europe. Out of its sixty seven inhabited islands, there were still six that needed exploring. We may have had chartered waters ahead but the days to come held a certain unknown quantity.
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