I arrived much later than I had expected, six instead of four, but I had no difficulty with the taxi getting to Maison Paofai, which has a wonderful location in the middle of Pape’ete, a few blocks from the market. The person in charge had left. An elderly couple staying on the second floor told me I had the room in the front and helped me up with my bag.
The room, while good sized with a little terrace and its own bath, had not been swept; the towel in the bathroom was wet from the previous tenant’s ablutions; his glass of water was still on the bedside table; I viewed the rumpled sheets with alarm. Slowly I realized there was an odd smell and those black, flat flies that are associated with damp, decay and a lack of cleanliness were in the bathroom. I was too tired to put 1 and 1 together. I turned on the air conditioning, decided the smell was coming from the bathroom, closed the door to the bathroom and went to bed.
Hours later, drugged with sleep, I was roused by knocking on the door. It was the young man, maybe twenty years old, who was in charge. He told me I was in the wrong room but that I shouldn’t change. Unfortunately in my groggy state I went along with this. I did get a clean towel out of him but it took some arm-twisting. I went back to sleep.
Almost as soon as I woke up in the morning I realized the smell was from damp and was emanating from the shower floor, which was broken and missing tiles. I opened the terrace door. I talked to the boy, who I realized now that I was fully awake, really was a teenager and again tried to change rooms. He would not have it. I told him about the smell. He opened the bathroom door as well as the terrace door and claimed it would be fine. When I asked him to clean the room he flatly stated, “We don’t clean.” When I suggested the sheets had been slept in he was sufficiently offended that I thought the sheets might be okay. His standards of cleanliness were quite typical of his sex and age group. The male adolescent, up to his ear lobes in manure, considers himself in a sterile situation.
I went out and found an excellent place for breakfast, a teahouse. They made a fine omelet; their coffee was good and there was the eternal baguette. I then doubled back on the road the teahouse was on, asking a woman about bus stops. We walked together until I recognized the stop. Amazingly a bus came and climbing on I asked the driver for the town, Punaauia, where there was a museum of Polynesian art. The bus was in a bad state, seats broken and unusable. The driver told me where to get off.
I descended and started asking my way. There were no signs. One man said I shouldn’t bother going because the museum was closed. Thank God, I paid him no mind. I walked toward the sea and suddenly a sign told me to turn right. In a few blocks I was at the museum.
It is in the process of renovation and, therefore, the exhibition was small. That was fine. Most of the objects—clubs, head decorations, spears, mortars and pestles, tikis—were still so alien to me that I was better off looking at a few rather than trying to understand a hundred. Oddly, most of the tikis were from Hiva Oa. The young woman who was both guard and commentator was excited to learn I had been to Hiva Oa. She had not been. What was interesting was that none of these tikis were smiling whether of wood or stone.
I walked back to the road, waited in scorching sun for a bus, deciding I wouldn’t stick out my thumb for fifteen minutes. Before that happened a woman in a van with her mother, her little dog and her son stopped to pick me up. They took me into Pape’ete to the market where I had lunch before walking home to my room, which smelled better.
I decided to decrease the odor of dampness by leaving the terrace door open all night with the air conditioner on. It also served as petty revenge on my landlord or lady. Since I was paying 200US a night for my quarters, I didn’t feel great wads of remorse. Value for money is not a Tahitian concept.
The next day I picked up the black pearls I had bought as a birthday present for myself, they had been restrung, and arranged a taxi to the airport for the next day. At the Maeva Café I lunched on fried shrimp and salmon. Talking to the young man who had frequently served me, I learned he had gone to the University of Boulder in Colorado. It seemed exactly the right place for him; certainly it explained his English.
I found myself locked out on my return. The teenager had told me I didn’t need the combination since it was never locked but someone came along quickly. I went up to my only slightly smelly room to finish packing.
Having passed through immigration and customs, I sat in the Business Class Lounge next to a young man who was heavily tattooed. We watched as some Japanese near us cheered and applauded. He told me that their flight had been delayed twenty-four hours, a portent. We began to talk in a choppy, on and off way. I realized he was Maori from New Zealand.
Next it was announced that our flight was delayed. In an hour our flight was canceled. Rumor had it that our plane had been given to the Japanese group. I suspected Air Tahiti was playing a game of musical airplanes.
There was the usual uproar. People with small children roaring the loudest; that seemed appropriate. The young Maori and I were among the last to be dealt with. We were told to go to the Airport Motel across the highway. I knew it because when I walked from the Fare Hau I took a short cut down their drive. We were given chits for taxis, and meals.
After a thoroughly repulsive lunch at the airport restaurant, we picked up our bags and took a taxi to the Airport Motel where we were told we had no reservations. I began to simmer. When we asked the driver of a van parked in the motel drive to take us back to the airport he refused because we were English speakers. I came to a rolling boil.
The woman cab driver who picked us up twenty minutes later was charming. She eyed my pearls, I was wearing them, and wanted to know if I’d bought them at the Pearl Market in the market where she said they would cost about 700US. Well, yes, if you spent six months to a year going every day and looking through bins to pick out one or two pearls.
When we got to the airline desk I had some crisp words about Air Tahiti’s abilities in the area of customer service. We waited some more and then were told to go to the Sofitel Resort. This was two cuts above the Airport Motel. At this point my Maori companion, who had been passive through most of these exchanges, took charge. He found a taxi and off we went to the resort.
I don’t think I had been to a resort before. It seemed the purpose of this variety of lodging was to isolate you from the culture you are in. It is a sort of subculture in which you are taken care of but are separated from the outside world. My room was large, comfortable, if a little the worse for wear, with a view of the swimming pool and the ocean beyond. The meals were okay; only breakfast was interesting.
My Maori companion had all the chits so we had breakfast, lunch and dinner together. I learned over meals that he taught Maori and Maori history at one of the more recherché private schools in Auckland, had been raised by his grandparents, was presently living with his grandmother, had just come from visiting her relatives in the Austral Islands, owned a small boat and had a large tattoo of a ray on his back. This came out in bits and pieces. We never had a smoothly engaged conversation. It may have been his youthfulness. But I learned from him about the linguistic linkages between the islands and was fascinated to learn that all people on the Polynesian Islands, Hawaii to Tahiti, can understand each other.
When we parted company, we were awkward with each other. I thought we would shake hands. The relationship still felt formal to me but when I put out my hand I could see he was upset and immediately leaned over for an embrace.
The morning of July 29th, my Maori friend on his way to Auckland, I received a welcome call from my grandson singing Happy Birthday off key. I hung about the lobby, walked around the hotel, talked to an American man and his wife, also canceled passengers. They, and some friends were trying to get to Sydney for a reunion with high school friends they had not seen in 30 years. We discussed politics, a dangerous subject these days. He believed the increase in dictatorships around the world is due to the lack of democratic leadership in America. He may well be right.
That afternoon I went to the airport and flew six hours to Auckland. I was a bit limp but had much to accomplish in the four hours before boarding my eleven-hour flight to HK.
I had left the Samurai in Auckland, not wanting to carry him around French Polynesia, with L and K, but they had left. They spend the winter on Fiji where they have a guesthouse. This year they are putting in an above ground pool made from a container.
A was meeting me with the Samurai. This had been simpler with my original flight, which had given me twenty hours between flights. Now I had four. I had to pick up my bag, get through Immigration and Customs including sniffer dogs, confess to my honey possession, get out, meet A, pick up the Samurai, go to the departure floor and check in again.
I got through immigration without difficulty, told the Custom’s woman I had contraband and got on that line which moved with amazing swiftness. I was relieved of my honey and told with mild severity to not ever try to bring honey into New Zealand.
I headed for the green line exit with my two cases and there, just outside the doors, was wonderful A with the Samurai in his case. We hugged frantically as she handed him over telling me she had named him Mura, a Maori name. I like that name. It fits him. We went to departures and found the Air New Zealand check in. Another hug, a good bye one.
A young woman, with a mouth like a zipper, at the New Zealand check in was as obstructive as she could manage without putting herself in danger of being accused of discourtesy. She told me I needed a ticket for a destination beyond Thailand. I have never, in thirty-five years of going to Thailand, been asked for this. I showed her my tickets to HK and my Barcelona return. She wanted to know if I had a visa for HK. I pointed out I would only be there for a week. Did I have a visa for Thailand? Luckily at this point the woman next to her broke in to say I didn’t need a visa.
I then went over to check in my bag. Usually people look at me and immediately help me with my bag. This woman stood and stared at me finally saying, “Put the bag on the conveyor.” I said, and it was now true, “I am 83. Can you help me?” With great reluctance she did.
In New Zealand I found that if someone was rude, they were my color. Anyone browner than I was invariably helpful and polite. I have no explanation.
The flight was smooth, the food excellent, the service helpful and kind. Most important, the air was recirculated frequently. I was putting Dr. F’s pills to the test again. The flight Pape’ete to Auckland was over 6 hours, to HK 11 and the final flight to BKK 3. I was not taking the full dosage because I didn’t have it but I had the basic amount. I came through it well. Having a good airline, New Zealand Air, that recirculates air frequently, makes a huge difference. I feel I know my traveling situation, what to watch out for, what conditions are dangerous. In other words perhaps I now understand my 83-year-old body and its needs.
But still I was/am missing the Marquesas.