Pape’ete has a little airport snuggled against the sea. Coming down one sees classic, as advertised, absolutely stunning views of Mo’orea. I was met by a rather gruff, tough looking Tahitian woman named Sandra who took me up to my home stay or guesthouse, or whatever you want to call it, that is on the side of the hill near the airport. The family live in the lower part of the house; the paying guests are upstairs. For over 100US a night I have a room a little bigger than my bed with dazzling hand-painted white and orange sheets on it whose window looks into a shed where the mother hand-paints pareus. There is no noticeable air movement. I share a bathroom with from two to six people depending on the resident population. There is one room with its own bath with big windows that give a view of Mo’orea. I suspect that’s over 200US a night. The residents at the moment are two very young Danish girls one year from finishing their degrees; they are both psych majors, and a couple from French Antibes.
Off the living room there is a porch with an incredible view of Mo’orea and the reef, a continuous white lie of surf with aquamarine on one side and dark blue water on the other. That view of Mo’orea, a dark tower of volcanic rock covered with jungle is so familiar from photos that seeing it for the first time from the veranda I had the same reaction I had had years ago upon initially seeing Mont San Michel. I wanted to say over and over, “But it’s just like its picture,” and felt like an idiot.
Mo’orea frequently wears a small chapeau of cloud on its head or it may wrap itself in a dark eiderdown of weather and disappear completely.
I know I am in the tropics because no-seeums are attacking my feet and ankles under the table. I must remember not to scratch.
I woke in the morning to roosters crowing and dogs barking. When we drove down into town we scattered red hens onto the verge. Looking down from the veranda there are houses of various undistinguished sorts, mostly one story, with corrugated roofs painted cream or red. Any space between houses is crammed with bananas, palms, frangipani, langilang flower and fruit trees of various identifiable and unidentifiable varieties.
I went down into town with the Danish girls who were leaving to go on a cruise with ten other Danes. We were driven by Fafa who was much less sullen than Sandra. She has been to the States and driven around California.
Fafa had told me to go to the Bank of Polynesia to get money. The machine coughed up my card and told me to contact my bank. This always sends a chill down my spine. I stood in line for half an hour to find out that they do not recognize cards from outside French Polynesia at Bank Polynesia. They suggested I try Bank Tahiti, which I did but I was only allowed to take out the equivalent of 250US which considering that my hotel had to be paid in cash was not enough. But I could get more tomorrow. I walked around the market, which is high roofed, airy, full of bananas, papayas, pineapples but few vegetables. Upstairs I could see there were tourist shops but I put off visiting them. As I wandered the aisles I saw hats. I had left mine in New Zealand. I tried one and liked it. The seller and possibly maker then demonstrated that you could fold it up and pack it, a surprise since it looked brittle and fragile. I was convinced at 20US. In amongst the hats were bright flower crowns to be worn with or without a hat. Women in the market were wearing them on their heads or as a band around their hat.
I walked up and down Boulevard Pomare, looking in shop windows and gazing across the street at the sea. Going in and out of pearl shops I picked up useful bits of information, most particularly where to have lunch–upstairs in the market at the Café Maeve.
My informant was quite right. I had a delicious poisson cru en lait coco, smooth on the tongue and rich with the flavor of coconut with taro chips and a papaya smoothie. Excellent.
When I got home, again a taxi, this time from the taxi stand on Boulevard Pomare, I found the daughter of the family, Rani, was teaching English to an elderly woman. I sat down and helped with hints but over did it at one point and was scolded by Rani. The woman was finding it difficult going, mostly I think because the elderly brain does not memorize easily.
After the lesson Rani took me down to the supermarket by the airport, which was nice of her.
The next morning after breakfast I walked down to the main road and the bus stop with the French couple. The bus is fine and is 200 instead of 2,500 as the taxi costs. I got out at the market, walked to the Bank of Tahiti and withdrew more money.
Remembering that I needed postcards I went upstairs in the market, browsing a few of the shops, before finding a place that offered 10 cards for 750, about seven-fifty US. I suggested to the woman 100 cards for 7,000. She said in French 7,500. I said 7,000. To my surprise she made an angry pounce saying in English, “You are not in charge, Madam.” I said “7,500 then.” As I picked out the cards I wondered at her anger. When I handed them to her and she counted them—99, I had to pick another—she said, “7,000.” I was touched that she had thought about her reaction and made a fiscal apology.
Again I ate at the Café Maeve, this time chicken. As I was leaving the French came in. They had been to the Botanical Garden and urged me to go. On the way home I excoriated myself for not doing more but I don’t think I have ever been in a place where I have been so happy to do nothing as I have been in Pape’ete.
I didn’t, knowing my ability to get lost, have the courage to walk home so again it was 2,000, or 20 US. I have no sense of direction and get lost easily. Luckily I also tend to walk in a circle. However, price was a huge inducement to try finding my way in the future. I packed. I was leaving the next day for Mo’orea.