March 25th: Papeete
The good luck which has followed us throughout our journey held true to form, and our second landing at Papeete was trouble free. There was no sign of flood damage suffered from the storm during our last visit in January, and the weather was warm and mainly sunny. A few intermittent drops of rain simply served to cool the day down.
Tahiti is a pretty place, following the typical south pacific island structure of lagoon, flat coastal land and steep mountainous hinterland. Zig zag ridges descend steeply from the summits of these mountains, their sharp edges so serrated they resemble the spines of a stegosaurus, or at the very least, a dragon. Occasionally there would be a break between the ridges allowing us a glimpse of steep sided valleys, their content shrouded in cloudy mist. As far as I could establish, there are no roads into the interior and it remains untouched apart from a lake used for hydro-electricity.
The old colonial buildings along the waterfront have balconies looking over the harbour and lagoon, and further out, across a stretch of open water, to the island of Moorea.
At first glance, Tahiti appears infinitely more prosperous than other pacific islands I’ve visited. The main roads are in good condition, the houses larger, and more apparently affluent. Even council buildings and halls are of good construction and well maintained. It is evident that money has been spent here – presumably by the French. Apparently the Mayor of one of the towns we passed through has been lobbying to get the French out of Tahiti for the last 30 years. So far, unsuccessfully.
I should also point out that everything here is excessively expensive, whether it be food, drink or goods. Also, that there were beggars on the streets which I’ve not seen before in the islands.
This is a port for the wealthy, and gossip about celebrity visitors abounds. The ship moored alongside us belongs to Kerry Packer’s son James, and another vessel in the port is owned by Mariah Carey. The Obamas are also currently here, visiting a private island.
Our own, less affluent tour took in gardens lush with tropical flowers and medicinal plants before we explored the small but very good Museum of Tahiti. There’s a lovely sense of familiarity in finding words and concepts we recognise as Maori used here, albeit with different spellings. Therefore, fenua instead of our own whenua.
We visited a charming grotto, the entry to the cave deeply fringed with cascading ferns. The pool of water extends back into the depths of the cave. Apparently this has been a favourite swimming spot for the local kids for centuries. Now there is a rope, and a sign warning us not to approach the mouth of the cave for fear of falling rocks. I was amused to see three youths who’d happily ignored the sign and were enjoying their lunch by the edge of the water.
Tahiti was our last port of call. This time, next week, we’ll be home. I’m torn between longing to see my family, pets, friends and colleagues, and an equally strong drive to keep on sailing to exotic ports.
This cruising life can become addictive.