Today I’m thinking about Tahiti because I’m reading a travel book and the author is there. Ruth & I spent some time in Papeete several years ago because someone who entered our family grew up there. Stanley wanted us to see where he went to school, the beach he played on, the house he lived in, etc. Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, is not a nice city. It is traffic-congested and anonymous. No longer the main community of an island paradise and reflecting that enviable position, it was a characterless town that could be anywhere. I remember walking along the industrial waterfront and seeing the ship that would soon leave for The Marquesas. At the time, getting aboard a cargo ship in Papeete was the only way to visit the Marquesas.
In the book I’m reading, J. Maarten Troost, a funny travel writer of 3 book centered in the South Pacific, is on the same waterfront and booking passage to The Marquesas on the Arunui III, a 360 foot cargo ship leaving the next morning. He’s in exactly the same spot I was. The differences are that it’s 2013 and he’s actually boarding the Arunui that day for a 2 week trip to The Marquesas and back while I was just dreaming. He mentioned that this is still the only place on the planet where you can board a boat to these remote islands.
Troost described Papeete as a town “…with chintzy office towers, traffic circles, oven-like churches, filthy sidewalks, and, near the port, cylindrical fuel storage depots that looked like unhatched eggs shading French naval vessels that exuded nothing but malice….” This was exactly the way I remembered it and brought it all back. There has been no reason for me and Ruth to return to Papeete even though Moorea, which Troost described as “a bewitching sight”, was the magical paradise that we expected Tahiti to be. We loved it there and so did our stress levels. We went from Tahiti to Australia and have returned there 9 times.
I highly recommend J. Maarten Troost’s travel books. The one described above is named Headhunters on My Doorstep. Be warned. In it, Troost is wrestling with less than a year of sobriety, and traveling alone is challenging his resolve not to drink. While a definite theme woven among travel experiences, alcohol avoidence is treated lightly and with his typical humor. It’s not heavy-going as Troost follows the path of another writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, who had 3 cruises in the South Seas and built a house on the island of Samoa.