Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bora Bora and Papeete - Tahiti Islands

11 March 2012

Two days ago we were in Bora Bora, a tiny island and we were ferried to the port in small, covered orange and white vessels with a wait between each departure of about 20 minutes or so. We needed to go and get a ticket from a officer who'd set up a desk on the dance-floor of one of the nightclubs, here. Then we made our way down to the third deck and stepped onto a boat which required some doing, with my managing my walking stick, painful knees today and finding hand-holds but it was not too difficult.

When we stepped off about 20 minutes later, (after a pleasant journey across a flat, small harbour), to this small concrete quay built like three sides of a square, the first thing that struck me was seeing sand everywhere and a few palm trees, along with some local people in sarongs and sometimes headdresses, or in Western clothes but quite a different shade to most of the waiting staff on board ship, who I now realise are from somewhere near India if not India itself. I'm slowly getting used to the fact that most of the people who are travelling on board the ship are from places where they don't get much sun and are really pale, this is the majority, (or tanned in that way only pale people can manage) whereas the waiting staff and many of the crew who perform manual work are from India, China and so on. I find this marked difference between different cultures and the roles they fulfill a curious thing, coming as I do from somewhere as diverse as Grey Lynn. Although even there, at home sometimes when my daughter and I are walking along together, her so brown and me so pale, people do stare and wonder about us plays on their faces. No idea why of course except I never see those looks when I am with other people, the same shade as I am or thereabouts. I can imagine now that some people will be calling me a racist for mentioning these things, but racism is about saying one group of people is better than another, whereas I am just commenting on something I've noticed, that is a fact and simply human beings going about their business. All the staff and passengers for the most part on board by the way are great, interesting and quite as diverse as you may please once they're in a conversation with me, naturally. Looks may be deceiving.

On Bora Bora I looked about the quay for some time, avoided a couple of local dogs lying in the sun looking a bit worse for wear, kept my bright green umbrella up to provide some shade since the temperature was so high, politely smiled but walked on when faced with tour guides and so on touting for business, and then soon took a hard right after a cluster of small buildings and walked on determinedly towards the one straight road running between the quay area and local shops. Behind this rather ramshackle and endearing arrangement towered the Bora Bora interior, mountainous and covered in greenery such as only the tropics can produce.

Along one strip of asphalt with no road markings, various vehicles moved at great speed, zipping stage left and right then disappearing to who knew where. Some were also parked. I saw a few people on bicycles. I didn't realise at first that they drive on the opposite side of the road to what we do in New Zealand and I almost got run over a couple of times, although I doubt that anybody would have really squashed me, just a couple of cars brushed past me at close quarters, until I realised I'd better start looking out with far more dedication.

In a touristy shop with a great many postcards outside I found a great CD by the best band in Tahiti, Toa Reva TE NUI HEVA according to the beautiful girl who served me. A few other marvellous items also found their way into my possession, then I decided to ask about trees for travel.

The girl was most willing to be helpful but could not speak much English, so I used some of my schoolgirl French, explaining with mime as well how tourists could dig a hole and plant a tree to make, '...le monde c'est bon, oui?' Then with more trees the world is good, I was trying to say. Eventually, she could understand me, a great understanding grew between us, even profound but she looked sorry, saying, 'Non, non, but would you like to see some trees?' She was a really good salesperson.
We were smiling broadly by this time and I shook my head, no, I wanted to plant some trees. Off I went. Perhaps she will then chat about this idea with others and they will offer this service in future. I do hope so.

Bora Bora could benefit from some fine palms and other trees along their quay. There was one bright yellow and red boat with palm trees on it like for a four-poster bed kind of thing, and I imagine they were in pots. The owner possibly hoping that one day they'd have some fine fronds to protect passengers from the sun, when they went on a sightseeing journey around the beautiful waters of Bora Bora.

I intend to mention Trees for Travel at every opportunity and encourage more people to plant trees. It's possible to buy some in places they are needed too, if you click on the photo to the right of this blog you will see many sites about trees for travel.

Someone at lunch also mentioned recently, the Queen has planted a number of trees for her Diamond Jubilee and I said, 'Yes, even she is catching on.' Possibly rather irreverently, but I meant well and not many people in New Zealand who I know are terribly respectful of Her Majesty, but I do appreciate her planting new trees nevertheless, this is an important action and can only benefit us all. Trees must be planted correctly, which I reiterate, so they do not disturb water pipes or other essential things which are under the ground, and so they can grow in a way which will not damage the roofs of houses and so on.

In the Bora Bora post office, an old, square concrete building with a high ceiling, the air conditioning was delightful. I felt pleased to finally post a number of postcards and letters to people back home, to a friend in France and another in Australia, then delighted to see that girl behind the counter put some beautiful Bora Bora stamps on the postcards with great care, herself and stamped them by hand with the date. I filmed this action and she looked a little perturbed saying, 'It is okay, it is okay.'
I think she imagined I was worried about the security of the post, but I said, “I'm just so pleased to see someone take so much care with the post. We have lost many of our post offices.'
She smiled in this sympathetic way and regarded me with some wonder. I guess we tourists provide oddities and peculiarities galore.

My younger days I would have explored much more, but as it was I took a good walk around for a couple of hours and did enjoy the smalltown atmosphere. A sense of a real tropical island where despite the local traffic going so fast people seem to lead a reasonably laid-back life. I sat outside some shiops with a few people resting in teh shade and one man and another were watching their wives, moving from shop to shop. The women cast a sharp eye back at their menfolk. The biggest man drawled in best Oz-ese, 'Shopping. There they go.' He waited a few beats. 'They're relentless.' The other hmmmed in agreement.
I piped up, 'O yes, I've already been along there and back.'
'Have you?' This man said, half-interested and half-disappointed, but with dry humour in his tone then up he got and with the other man, walked on, saying, 'I suppose we'd better get going then.'
A helpful chap, he'd already lifted a chair without any trouble to save a woman who still sat upon it, opposite, saved her from sliding over into the hedge behind, (one chair leg had slid off the concrete into a shallow groove), and he'd also retrieved my stick when it fell to the ground.

It was a fine day, a little breeze and a real taste of the tropics, old buildings, a slower way of life unless you sat in an air-conditioned car, many tourist shops and trips on offer, a huge thatched shaded area to sit in and enjoy the views, boats everywhere and people talking with each other. Some people looked a little harder than I was used to, the balmy climes of Tamaki Makaurau Auckland do not bake us into expressions though, do they.

We sailed then for Papeetee and arrived there the next day. Again a beautiful clear sunny day and this time a much larger port town, immense but with similar towering hills behind the buildings, the land covered in dense trees, and the shapes of the mountains looking volcanic.

I had a difficult morning since my appearance seems to disturb a few people more than perhaps it would normally, where I live. Since the weather got warmer I wear sleeveless clothes. This may not seem strange to you at all, those reading this, but some people on board find it alarming. The sneers, frowns, bewildered glances and outright strange moans and utterances directed towards me I do my best to rise above, however this rudeness is uncalled for, surely? I simply have one large tattoo on my left arm and dress a little more flamboyantly or individually perhaps, than many people on board. Some tolerance and understanding could be called for, I'd say but it's not possible to say this to every third or fourth person I encounter on a ship with thousands on board, is it. Not that they'd listen, of course, in fact if I did say anything to them directly concerning their appalling manners I believe they could find this cause for aggravation or some further unpleasantness. I plan to think of something to say even if only in mind, it will simply take time, all suggestions are welcome.

Then the chef in the almost empty bistro on board could not make me an omelette yesterday when he had nothing else to do, this also perhaps indicated he didn't think I deserved any breakfast, or my appearance gave him some kind of mental block so he kept just standing there doing nothing much, for some time. Eventually I did get an apology, by which time I was so hungry I simply got some food from the bain marie, various toasty things with ham and cheese, then some melon from the cooler etc., but there seems to be some kind of communication breakdown caused by my appearance, in some quarters. I never expected this kind of odd and even nasty reaction from world travellers. I suppose I've been spoilt by living amongst such broad-minded people where I come from, I do so miss them all.

Anyway, it is only a minor annoyance I suppose and causes me to sing to myself which is a pleasant activity.

Now, to explain the procedure of disembarking. We could simply walk off the ship to visit Papeetee, didn't need to get on a boat then be ferried to shore. I squinted my eyes to go down the gangplank, so I couldn't see how high up we were, and did not then get vertigo. The woman in front of me very kindly walked super-close to me, so I'd feel safer, as well. Many people here are very kind and helpful, most friendly. I've met some wonderful fellow travellers on board the ship. They are certainly not all rude to me.

Most buildings and awnings on Papeetee have a black dust upon them which I believe is volcanic dust, blown around by the wind. Also a great many locals everywhere and it was a change to be in a crowd of predominantly brown faces, the golden brown and deep golden brown of Pacific people. In Grey Lynn where I come from the suburb, street, shops and parks are populated by many nationalities, but not that many Pacific brown faces except perhaps during the Pacifika Festival. Many Papeetee street names and shop names are in French. This area was colonised by France. People speak French or their local language, (I sat to rest on a public bench, which was set with another companionably facing it and five local women were chatting there in a language a little like Maori), but not many speak English, few who I met or heard speaking around me.

I kept walking through the town looking for things of interest. There was a massive stone carving with two heads just before I left the port area, this statue sits under a huge tree. I stood there in shade for some time and noticed bees visiting flowers on the tree which pleased me enormously, bees are creatures we need for survival. I like to encourage bee-keeping. Then wanting to cross the road with my umbrella up to carry my own shade, I stopped a moment and noticed the woman who'd been handing out free maps to tourists, she just walked across the road without much hesitation and the traffic simply stopped for her. I decided to follow suit and to plunge into the town the way that local just had. Sure enough when I needed to cross, the vehicles all stopped for me without too much trouble at all. But little scooters, like Vespas, which zoom along sometimes, they look like they aren't going to stop and I skittered out of their way as soon as I saw them bearing down on me. Perhaps they are more likely to just weave in an out of the pedestrians as they cross the road? I'm not sure.

A large building over the road from the quay area looked like it was trimmed with deep cream lace, balconies all along, on and on up and up for storey after storey. This trim gave the place a romantic appeal, even if black dust coated everything. Many shops stood open with awnings to advertise, and some goods for sale on the footpath on tables and stands, wherever I looked. When I took a photo a young man stopped so he'd be in the shot and looked straight at the camera. Then when I took another one he turned his head so the photo would be slightly different I suppose. Narrow roads away from the main street port-side, and down a side street a building with a towering roof of open latticework, mainly dark brown where a daily market is housed. An immense wooden carving stands outside in a small, raised garden, people sit on the edge of the garden in the sun and one man regarded me with a bleary eye as I took photos but he didn't move. I usually let people see I have a camera so they can move if they do not want to be in the shot.

I walked along through the market which was cool enough with slight breezes running through, had wide avenues for pedestrians, no traffic and many tables set up with goods, food and so on for sale; various handcrafts, flowers, fruit and vegetables, great slabs of delicious-looking fish on ice, its pink flesh delectable and some whole light-blue fish too, stacked on top of each other. Then I stepped out to the back of the place after a good ten minutes, into some very small backstreets where I did feel like I could perhaps get lost. An English couple, one with a walker and the other on a mobility scooter were looking like they were already lost. They conferred together quite audibly about whether they could make it down the narrow footpaths.

I crossed the road to enter a shop with air conditioning. Cool air revived me enormously. There I also discovered racks of clothing which interested me, a Mother Hubbard-style long dress trimmed with white lace, just the thing for a souviner, to look like a pale version of a Tahitian grandmother and for a reasonable price. This shop also sold some fantastic, tiered, bright cotton petticoat-style skirts to the ground with embroidery. The shop girl smiled when I asked how much the dress was, 'in dollars?' She'd dipped her head initially, as if to compose her face then grinned, 'Eight.'
My eyes popped. 'Eight dollars?'
'Ahhh, eighty, she said, still smiling.'
I regretfully put the dress back, 'O well, too much,' I said softly.
Then I saw the tiered skirts and noted the price in francs above them, 'How much are these?'
This time the girl asked the woman behind the counter and she said, '$25-' So then I could see, the two prices in francs above each rack, and smiled. 'So those dresses are really about $40- or $50- then?'
The girl smiled at me and tossed her hair back. I realised she possibly knew no English at all really to speak of, and spoke softly, 'You were guessing.'
We both laughed together.
The woman behind the counter agreed the dress I wanted was far less than $80- and so I did get this souvenir, perhaps I will wear it on one of our black tie nights on board. A descendant of French people who settled in NZ in 1840, I'll be wearing a version of a garment the French introduced to Tahiti as more modest, centuries ago. It's ironic then how many 'girlie' shots of young local women there are on postcards and so on here. It rather shocked me.

Then, back down the street where I'd come from, on through the market again I saw from a different angle one of the craft stalls had some fine bags made of fabric and some kind of woven flax. I talked in English for some time about the bags and the woman behind the counter paid me as much heed as she could, but I thought she maybe did not really get what I was saying. Still, she was friendly enough. Soon, she hugged her friend good-bye who she'd been talking with, and attended to me. Once I made my mind up to purchase something, the old woman gestured to me to sit down, and I did take a welcome rest on a small white plastic stool while she put my purchase in my shopping bag.

Then I decided to ask the woman about trees for travel. After some time and many smiles she said, 'Sorry, I am not to know speak.' Then she very kindly asked people walking by if they had, 'Anglais' but nobody did. I explained, 'Je parle Francais un petit peu,' (I only speak French a little). Smiles all round ensued with a few titters. I blathered on in English saying I would ask someone else and thank you very much, then at last, 'Merci beaucoup Madame.' We were all pleased with this result, people were thanked, a sale had been made and I was moving on in good heart.

I decided that the spectacular flower display for sale at the front of the market, run by a man in a black T-shirt could be a likely place to find out about trees for travel and I made enquiries. I opened with asking, 'Parlez vous Anglais.'
'Non.' He smiled.
So I began again to mime of pointing to trees he had for sale, then digging and planting one. 'Le monde c'est bon, n'est pas?' [Then] the world is good, isn't it?
He looked interested at least and then asked a young woman in red and black polka dots sitting nearby if they spoke English. She replied, got up and walked towards me, 'Yes, I speak a little English.'
So between the three of us we figured out what I meant. She decided a place called Onesmore did have Trees for Travel, 'Oui, oui,' she kept saying to the man and flashing her eyes most expressively, while he spoke rapid French in a tone which suggested disbelief. 'Onesmore, oui oui.'
I took a photo then to help me remember what they'd said, but the woman dashed away and I never did find out how to spell wherever it is on Papeetee which offers Trees for Tourists to Plant for Travel, to cover our carbon costs, but maybe she went to alert them at Onesmore's that they needed to do more advertising? I do hope so.

Before I left I stood on the paved area by the ship and looked back at Papeete, thanked the place silently for giving me my lovely, clever, kind daughter who has some tipuna from there.  It was a pleasant few moments to stand there and regard the fascinating place, giving thanks. 

Now we are on our way again and I have a terrible rash from the insect repellent and sunscreen spray I applied for the two days we were in Bora Bora and Papeetee, to avoid catching Dingy Fever from the daytime-biting mosquito. I now itch all over from dermatitis. A shower fixed this last evening, perhaps it will again. The nurse on board tells me it is £100- to see the doctor at night and £50- during the day, which confounded me since I thought travel insurance meant the insurance company paid for it. There is certainly not that much in my on board account, I hardly ever buy anything here and did not intend to, either. So I'm off to try the long shower method and to pray these raised angry red blisters do not reach my eyes and mouth. The anti-histamine tablet I took also seems to have reduced the itch a little.

In three days we are in Hawaii, I do not want to look like someone with a disease when we get there.


  1. I like reading your blog Raewyn. It reminds me of Uncle Travelling Matt from Fraggle Rock. Tales from afar. We were so excited that he visited Rotorua once.

    1. o cool. (i have only just learnt how to reply to comments on here, ha).