Ia Orana! It’s been a while since I’ve had any internet so catching up on my blog- I’ll do a batch post of all of the rest once I arrive in Pitcairn (I leave today!)… but here we go back in time for a little catch up. There is a lot to say about French Polynesia, so I’ll have a few more posts on the subject to follow…
After the events on the plane, I was feeling rather emotionally drained. But arriving in Tahiti was great – I was hit immediately by a wall of humidity and heat, and the sweet floral honeysuckle-like scent that follows you everywhere. I arrived at night, and had been wearing a jumper on the plane and almost had a panic attack from suffocation the instant I exited the plane and walked down the gangplank. I couldn’t strip fast enough – particularly because my army bag was on my shoulders and it’s nearly impossible to lift on and off without some kind of nearby seat or wall to set it on first. I survived till I reached the terminal, expecting air conditioning when there was none, and was surprised to be greeted by some Polynesian dance and their equivalent of the three amigos playing instruments. A little like arriving in Disneyland! Only instead of children I was surrounded by adults in their latter years mostly heading off to join a cruise of some description, or a few honeymooners…
And now with my 4, yes 4, suitcases, I was even less mobile then before I left Los Angeles… after collecting them in the very small arrivals hall, I was relieved that everything was in one piece, no missing wheels, etc. I ate something on the plane that didn’t agree with me very well and felt rather off, so went to try to find a toilet to splash some water over my face, and then realised that the toilets seemed to be upstairs. Not the most practical for an airport… but because I looked so pitiful and confused by myself, I cajoled the airport security man to guard the huge luggage trolley (free, incidentally – two fingers to you, USA!) and wait for my return. Then he was a gent and helped me wheel the trolley that seemed to have a mind of its own down to the taxi rank. I met a lovely female taxi driver, who overcharged me spectacularly to travel the few hundred metres up hill to the airport motel. If I had been feeling stronger and more indignant, I might have used to storage facilities and trudged my suitcases one by one up the incline, but it was too late for stubbornness, and even I sometimes need to admit defeat.
So I stayed the first night in the Tahiti Airport Motel, and after a little confusion at check in where they had thought I wanted two rooms and that I was three people, and then telling me they didn’t have space for me despite my booking, before finally realising my key was there along with a printed invoice right in front of the receptionist’s nose….I managed to leave my luggage in the lock up downstairs, forgetting clean underwear in my suitcase which meant another late night hand washing session, and settled in for the night.
The motel is a simple affair, but air conditioned (actually too cold and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off!), with a large bed, French TV, etc. I watched some Popeye in French (you don’t miss much, but they have Olive Oyl’s voice all wrong), and then watched what seemed to be dubbed CSI. Very amusing how the French insist on dubbing everything., I can’t quite understand it. We just don’t have a dubbing culture… Americans don’t dub or do subtitles, they just remake everything, and the French and Spanish love to dub… I’d find it completely unwatchable if I were French, I’m sure.
I woke up ridiculously early – all the different time zones really have started to get to me and I have no idea what day it is or what time of day it is. It’s all turned into a blur… but then somehow spent a long time on the computer trying to figure out where I was and what I was going to do now, and where I would be staying for the next while, and whether communication would now be impossible (I have no 3G now). I was getting ready to leave the room for the 11am checkout, when at 10:55 they were already calling me.
I know what they mean about the culture loving rules here and not being willing to bend them. I told the receptionist I would be down, and that maybe she should wait till 11 to start haranguing me, and then headed off rather grumpily to the luggage store to leave the rest of my backpack, and packed a daybag with some cameras. I hung out in the reception using the wifi for a while, and realised there was no bus service on a Sunday, so decided to be brave, take my bottle of water, and then walk the hour and a half into Pa’peete.
It took me rather longer with the midday sun, and it was exhausting. I quickly realised that wearing make-up in the heat isn’t a great idea, as it started to gather in my creases and I looked like a congealed sea monster. The locals looked at me with some pity and some intrigue. I don’t think many tourists walks through the Fa’aa area – mostly they whizz past in taxis, and never stop to see it. I actually didn’t take any pictures, apart from a few on my phone. I’m not quite sure why, as I’m rather regretting it now, but I think I sometimes need to get my head into a place and acclimatise before I can think about photography. I was also too exhausted to think at all…
I found myself some food at a little seafront place ¾ of the way to the “city” – and had my first Mahi Mahi (dolphin fish) of the trip. The food seems to have a very heavy Asian influence, with many Chinese and Japanese items popping up on most menus, which is then mixed with bizarre additions like steak with Roquefort, or things withy heavy cream sauces which would surely curdle in the heat. The French influence is felt everywhere – it’s actually surprising.
Of course I knew it was a colony but it has really come as a shock that it feels like a tropical France. The supermarkets are filled with brie and pate, and everyone you meet seems to be from France itself. It’s disconcerting. The British colonies I have visited hardly seem as British as this distant and alien land feels French.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a huge undercurrent of bitterness from the Polynesians themselves. It seems few of them are employed in the better professions, and many are overweight owing to poor diets because the cost of good food here is astronomical. The supermarkets are controlled by the French and prices are high, only a few staples have controlled pricing and everything else, including fish is costly. The French control the infrastructure, and own the hotels that bring rich tourists that go on French operated tours, and eat from restaurants mainly owned by the French. It’s a monopoly of sorts, and I feel that the Polynesian culture has suffered greatly because of it. You will hear the French here complain about the Polynesians, calling them lazy, and many will say that Polynesians have taken the best elements of French culture and left the rest. But when you really look, I don’t think they are better off – they may have access to join the French military, or to be educated in France, but I wonder how many of them would just prefer their country back.
In any case, it is a beautiful place. All verdant greens and dramatic skies, I wish I were here longer, and I really wish I could drive! It would give such freedom, and I’m now kicking myself a little! I really should have found a way to have taken that test again before I left… so many times on this trip I wished for my license – I definitely need to sort that out when I’m back…. Then I could have happily avoided the bus fiasco that I suffered three days in (more of that in part 2 or 3!)….though I suppose it’s all part of the adventure!