Tahiti First Entry
by Mykel Board
I transfer this from my hand-written notes to my computer. It's 1PM. I'm inside the $30-a-night hostel in Pape'ete Tahiti. I've just returned from a visit to Mo'orea, “the most beautiful island in the pacific.” Hot, but rainless skies, mountains, beaches, friendly people... I hated it.
All my fault. I shudda known.
The plan? Take the 7:20AM ferry to the bus. Take the bus to the Sofitel. Have breakfast at the hotel. Walk through the hotel to the beaches on the other side. Swim in the nice/safe waters of the hotel for a few hours... eat lunch at the restaurant... once more swimming, hitch back to the last ferry at 4PM.
The reality? Take the ferry: Check. Take the bus to the Sofitel... a high end tourist trap where the rooms are “bungalos” with thatched roofs... and a jump to the sea... Got there: Check
Find the hotel restaurant: Check.
I'm sorry sir, you cannot eat here. We are full today and need the tables for our guests.
Is there a place nearby I can get something to eat? I haven't eaten since yesterday afternoon?
There is another hotel, five minutes... by car.
Can I walk it in 15 minutes?
The receptionist smiles a smile reserved for idiot tourists who can barely speak French.
No sir, you cannot walk in 15 minutes, but I can call you a taxi.
Are you sure they're not also full?
She picks up the phone. I can hear her getting switched from desk to restaurant back to desk. Then I here the merci. and she hangs up.
Good news, you can have breakfast at the other hotel... for 4500 francs. (About $45 dollars.)
No thanks, but thanks.
I walk out. $45 for bacon and eggs???? Maybe coffee??? I don't think so. I can go a day without food. I'm a Jew. We do it every year. Ah, but this sun... and the humidity!
Hungry, thirsty I head for the highway to THE NEXT PLACE
There's a little beach. No food or drink anywhere in sight... we'll a small yellow building a few hundred meters away... I go. It's a post office.
I struggle to the beach, change to my bathing suit under a towel.... Lie in the sun.. but don't go into the water. No sandals and I might step on a STONE FISH. After a half hour, hitch back to the boat (easy hitch). And take it back here.
Now to the transcription started yesterday:
I write this in an outdoor cafe in Pape'ete Tahiti. It's the rainy season... January... rainiest month of the rainy season... Guess the weather now.
The cafe is decorated with movie posters-- all obviously creased and unfolded... all French versions of American movies: Star Wars is the only one with the name not changed.
As I write, I eat a baguette sandwich... one of the cheaper things on the menu... about $5. It's a “Thon” sandwich.
I thought “Thon” meant “tongue.” You know, like you get in a Jewish deli, Hispanic taco truck, or Japanese Yaki Niku shop. Nope, I shudda known. “Thon” means Tuna.
It's a strange place here in Tahiti. I SHOULD like it, but I don't. It's like a puzzle with all its pieces:-- but they just don't fit together... at least not for me. It's tropical, relaxed, nominally Catholic, but with a history and culture steeped in mahu culture... and sexually tolerant. .
The mahu, for those who didn't click on the link, are usually the youngest boy in a family of all boys. This boy is raised as a girl. Mahu are an integrated part of society... more than accepted... just normal... everywhere, but most noticeable in restaurants, bars, and other service jobs. One of the receptionists at the hostel is one. They are everywhere, and-- like girls or “girls” everywhere-- are uninterested in sex with me.
Still it's a friendly culture, with people saying bonjour on the street... and greeting each other with a French style kiss on the cheek. They won't approach you, but will go out of their way to help if asked.
EXAMPLE: When I was looking for my couch-surfing hostess-- I had only an address and I couldn't find it. I hailed a guy on a bike. He stopped and I showed him the map on my dying phone. He shook his head and shrugged. Then, there appeared a couple of joggers. He waved them off their path and asked them in French if they knew where I needed to go. They huddled around the phone, tried to match landmarks... had a bit of trouble... One of them hailed a passing car. The car stopped. The joggers asked for the street I was looking for... the driver got out of the car... There were, then, half a dozen people huddled around my phone.
One spotted a landmark, another turned the phone properly to orient it to the street we were standing in. The bike driver said the French equivalent of Ah-hah! Then thanked everyone and took me to the building where the hostess lived. Outside was a complicated doorbell, where we had to electronically choose the apartment number. The cyclist couldn't figure out how to do it. As someone was leaving, the cyclist asked him in French. He not only explained in French, he manipulated the electronics and called the surfer. (Her name is Dominique.) VOILA!
Oh yeah, the bike guy's name was ANGEL, pronounced in French like New Yorkers pronounce the word orange. I gave him a big hug in thanks. He was not embarrased.
Maybe it's the rain... coming down like tigers and wolves now. Maybe it's the language. I try to speak French, but I do a poor and admittedly half-hearted job.
Maybe it's the contrast with New Zealand, where I stayed mostly with friends... while here I know no one.
It's not really bad... but I don't think I'll be coming back.
Mykel's more political and controversial columns are here