Papeete, Tahiti, Society Islands, French Polynesia
January 31, 2017
Our ship pulled into Papeete at about 7:30 am and Barry and I got off the ship at 8:30 am to explore town. It is already steamy with the high of only 83* today. Though the temperature isn’t so bad, the humidity is, and that tropical sun fries my pale, weak, Anglo skin. The brown sun spots on my face are coated with 70 spf lotion and I even sprayed some 30 spf sunblock over that. Having suffered the pain and expense in trying to get these spots lasered off, (with very little success), my new idea is to see what island best resembles the largest spot. Then I will claim to be divinely marked, a sign that I should be worshipped there. No? The penalty of being a California girl with pale Anglo skin…..
Ripe, large Tahitian woman shuffle in the sun. Their exuberant hair, long , thick and kinky, is often pinned off their faces with flower clips or some have it in buns. They sway slowly, some carrying babies, walking with muscled, tattooed men in tank tops. They are beautiful, as in a Gauguin painting, with earth goddess demeanor, dark soulful eyes and strong broad noses. Though there’s traffic and activity, it seems to me that the local people are moving slowly, conserving energy.
In addition to living in a garden paradise, French Polynesians, of course, speak the most exquisite language on earth, French. The French gained control in 1842 and made Papeete the capital. Going into shops, the a heavy, tropical floral scent greets me first and then a soft, “Bonjour, Madame” from the Polynesian shop keeper. Also from the best of France, the smell of the baguettes is a gift. I nearly stop on the sidewalk to watch people in restaurants take large bites into sandwiches made from this French bread and chew so satisfyingly.
The town market has various products from the area: vanilla, oil, scented soaps and lotions. The flowers and fruit are stunning, yet the fish is what Barry and longingly view. If only we were staying long enough to buy and cook some of that fish. We both run recipes through our minds. Well, perhaps another time. (I certainly can’t complain about the fish onboard, it has been excellent. )
After a couple of hours sweating like pigs and sporting alarmingly red, splotched faces, we stopped for a beer and gave up at 10:30am. Beer for breakfast? Hinano beer, the beer of Tahiti, is a light amber and quite refreshing. The server/lifesaver pours a very cold glass for us and it is nectar. The Hinano logo features the profile of a Tahitian woman wearing flowers in her hair, sitting on a beach looking toward ocean and island. I think it’s really charming and such a marker of place for Tahiti. This logo is featured in many restaurant windows and appears on all sorts of souvenirs. When we were here a few years ago I passed up getting the $30 t-shirts, thinking I could find a better price somewhere, but never did. This time we did find some cheaper ones we bought several as gifts.
In the afternoon we are anxiously awaiting the chance to get into the water. Our lagoon sail and snorkel tour, departs onboard an impressive catamaran right next to the cruise ship. The view to Mo’orea is dreamlike and the clouds over Papeete are like steam rising from a shower. Our captain takes us one one direction, then back again from where we came. The clouds are just starting to get quite dark and the light rain begins. Barry and I move from the trampoline to under the cover in the center of the boat. After searching for about an hour, the captain finally settles upon a really unimpressive area and we get into that amazing water.
However after swimming a little I discover that my snorkel clip, from home, is broken and I just can’t get it to work under the mask strap. Swimming back to the boat, the French second mate yells to me, “No, no, no. Swim far away, we moving”.
Grrrr. I tread water a while then have to swim over to the location. I am wasting time swimming back to borrow their equipment. As I cimb back onboard, several other swimmers return, including Barry. The report is that the current is just too strong. This spot requires a long swim to find any coral, few fish are there. Sadly, this is the worse snorkel dive we’ve had. A minor mutiny resulted and the captain apologized, free flowing rum punch and Tahitian dance lessons helped soothe our disappointment on our way back. Hard to be unhappy in paradise, oui?
A wonderful feature of the Princess Cruise is the moistened towel served by a smiling steward as you check back on to the ship. Wiping off the salt and sweat is so lovely.
Now as we steam past the purple silhouette of the jagged peaks of Mo’orea, with the sun just set in an orange cloudy billow, one star is visible with just a small sliver of moon. I think, “Slow this down, turn down the volume”. The staff meetings, the grocery lists, they were static noise. This is the type of moment that makes a life.
I awoke to some rolling during the night and decided to look out the balcony. Nearly as many stars as grains of sand on the beach spread out across an endless sky. I gasped aloud at a shooting star, seemly just out of my reach. The universe is a good place, and likes to delight us all, I am quite sure.
More days at sea, then we’ll get to New Zealand!