The elusive Tahitian bus

bus

So I’m playing catch up again. Blogging is difficult without consistent internet! I’m on Pitcairn now (yes!), and Tahiti has been and gone, but as promised I’d fill you in.

Where had we got to?

After my walk into Pa’peete, I headed back to the airport motel and hung around to wait for Pascale and Julien, friends of friends, who had very (very) kindly offered to let me use Julien’s empty apartment in Puna’auia. They were flying in from another island where they’d been for a long weekend, so I had headed back to the motel to make use of the internet while I still could and wait to be collected.

Cat

The woman in reception saw me sitting there for an hour or so and then came out and pointed to a sign saying in effect, “no loitering”. I couldn’t quite believe it, particularly as I was sitting there with my huge 4 suitcases, etc.

I told her that I was waiting to be picked up, and she complained about how long I’d been sitting there saying the owner allowed guests to stay 30 minutes after check out. The reason, allegedly, is that the owner doesn’t like you using their wifi after you’ve checked out, which is a bit tight. I’d paid around £110 to stay there, and had only been in the room 12 hours due to my arrival time, so I argued it and told her I would have been using wifi from the moment I checked in till check out which could potentially have been 22 hours of usage. Nil Points for customer service. She did eventually back off, but spent the nest hour of waiting glaring at me through the reception window.

One thing you learn quickly about French Polynesia is how they are sticklers for rules (however illogical), and it’s a bit tedious. As I mentioned in the last post, that morning they had already been calling me down to check out before the actual check out time, they’re that eager… anyway – be warned. Tahiti Airport Motel is strict on everything, so be prepared for an argument.

Pascale and Julien arrived after a while and we couldn’t get all of my luggage in their car, so Pascale went and smoothedthings with the reception lady who then allowed me to put some luggage in the store (for a fee) till the next morning. We headed out to Puna’auia – Julien’s apartment is great. A two level place, with large bedroom, kitchen, excellent shower, balcony and landscaped gardens in a gateddevelopment opposite the Museum of Tahiti. It’s a 10 minute walk to shops, supermarket, a few restaurants, and the food vans that pop up all over Tahiti of an evening. It’s also a short wander to a stretch of beach – not the most amazing bit of beach, but access to swimming all the same. There is no internet in the apartment, so that evening I wandered the complex seeking out a wifi network, and found one on the ground floor which didn’t require a password. It means basically sitting on someone’s doorstep to get signal, and being eaten by mosquitos on the stairwell, but still. Beggars can’t be choosers.

I crashed out and slept like a log,finally feeling that I had a few days to gather myself and sort my luggage out in one place before heading off on the next stage of the adventure. I’m relived that everything had gone so well so far (touch wood) – and that I made it with all bags to Tahiti. It had been such a stress standing at every carousel, praying that my luggage shows up with wheels intact, and voila – only one more luggage ferrying trip, then the Claymore II and before you know it, I’ll be on Pitcairn!

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So the first day in the apartment passed – bags were collected from the motel, supermarkets were visited for provisions, explorative walks were made. By the end of the day, I’d decided I didn’t want to feel hemmed in, so decided to be brave and take the bus around the island the following day. I read up a little about the Tahitian bus service (terrible, by all accounts) but thought I would probably only be in Tahiti once, so I should just go for it.

At 5pm the next day, when I’d been waiting for a bus for more than 3 and a half hours I cursed my decision. It started off easily enough, I walked up the road to where the shops and garage were located, asked a petrol station attendant about where to wait for the bus, he vaguely pointed to the supermarket, and I made my way towards it. As if by magic the bus appeared in front of me, so I skipped to make it, paid my 400 XPF to the end of the line, and sat. I felt rather smug about all this being so easy, but it’s very true what they say about never counting your chickens.

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We headed off round the coast which was quite a fun drive, and helped me to get my bearings. This way I could see enough of Tahiti not to feel as though I was missing out on too much. The trip took about an hour and a half to reach Taravao – the last village on the route, which is also where you can change buses to go into little Tahiti, or “Tahiti Iti”. I got there at about 11:00, and decided Taravao didn’t look very interesting – there was a huge McDonalds sign which immediately put me off, and a supermarket and a few other eateries etc, but it seemed just to be a bit of an “end of the road” hub. It had the energy of a place in transition, people getting on and off buses, drunks hanging around, everything felt a little grab and go.

McDonalds

Taravao possibly has more going for it, but first impressions weren’t that positive, so I decided to board another bus before really knowing where it was going which looked like it headed into Tahiti Iti. Turns out it did, so I caught it in to Tautira, the end of the line on one side of Iti. It was a more picturesque drive – that side of the coast was more rugged, with beach breakers and locals bodyboarding and surfing. It was sleepier and more provincial feeling. I suppose more what you’d expect when you think of Tahiti maybe 20 years ago.

Small roadside tin roofed “bars” would occasionally appear, and the roads were rougher – the chain restaurants and large supermarkets vanished and there were no other cars on the road we travelled down. People walking along the road or tending to their business stared in at me sitting on the bus, and a few waved. I think if I were to go back to Tahiti itself, this is where I’d head. For want of a better word it was more “authentic”. Once I’d reached the end of the road in Tautira, I stayed on the bus as it turned around and headed back to Taravao, as local advice had been that the buses are irregular and schedules often don’t match up, so the best plan is to take a bus when you see it. I’d done my window shopping, and Tautira is tiny anyway – there wasn’t really anything to do per se, and so few people about to photograph. At Tautira I met a Belgian guy who boarded the bus – the only other passenger. He has been living there for a few months teaching in a local school, figuring out what he was going to do next. We had a nice chat, and at Taravao he kindly asked the bus driver what time the next bus going the other way around the island to Pa’peete was leaving and from where. The driver said 1:30, so I took the opportunity to grab some (disappointing) lunch and then wandered up the road to where I thought the bus stop was. I was standing there by 1:10, and was already congratulating myself on a successful sojourn. It was not to last.

1:30 came and went, then 2:30, and 3:30. I decided to start walking in the direction the bus would travel so I could catch it further up the road, and wandered down a hill, past a construction supplier and a few industrial businesses to what looked like a small marina. I waited there sheltering from the sun under a large tree.

By this point frustration and lack of water was starting to get to me. I’d tried hailing every bus that had gone past carrying a school bus sign, in the hope that one of them might have forgotten to take their sign down but to no avail. I waited till 4:30, optimism ebbing quickly, and a local who had cycled past me about 10 times as I’d be standing there so long said it would be very soon. It wasn’t to be.

I walked back up the hill to Taravao with one thought: water. After a quick supermarket sweep where I ended up with about 3 litres of fluid that vanished down my throat within minutes, I used my awful French to ask the local drunks about the bus schedule. The last bus had left was their resounding conclusion. I don’t know how this was possible given that I’d been standing there half the day, but I took their word for it. I asked around to see if there was somewhere to stay, but nope, no accommodation either. Walking was also out of the question, and darkness was soon to loom. I saw a couple of people hitching and decided that was my only option. I’d read about hitching in Tahiti, and that it was pretty common and accepted, so I gave it a go. 4 rides later and I found myself back in the civilisation of Pa’peete having gone the full way around both coasts. We passed the bay where the Bounty first landed, and passed some amazing bits of coastline. It’s much more beautiful and wild down that East side of the island.

I arrived in Pa’peete exhausted but thankful. I couldn’t face anymore hitching and trying to communicate, so I sought out the taxi rank and headed home the expensive way. The traffic was awful as there had been an accident and all I wanted was to get home and have a shower… when I finally got home, I put they key in the door and felt a huge sense of relief to be in the cool in front of a fan, with a sofa and some dubbed episode of an American cop show to relax in front of. Nothing like some bad dubbing to take your mind off of painful feet and sunburn.

Moral of the story: don’t trust Tahitian buses.

After a day like that I’d pretty much decided that after my Mangareva luggage trip (to come) I’d need to go somewhere for a few days to relax that didn’t require a car – so that became my next mission….

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