Aboard our plane, a 747, landing in Tahiti was definitely white knuckle. We dropped lower and lower on our approach, tossing and wobbling in a violent thunderstorm, and there was nothing to be seen out either side of the plane but turbulent waves. Somehow, what seemed like hours later, a very capable pilot found the landing strip, surely the narrowest landing strip on this planet, and all was well except my nerves, which took quite a while to settle.
Papeete looked just like it should look, a little shabby, lots of colonial structures, no high rises except for a few hotels, flowers everywhere, with everything damp. The atmosphere was definitely tropical, muted sunlight, deep blues and greens of the ocean, and gaudily colored plants and flowers smelling rich and slightly musky, There was no harbor; numbers of sailboats were anchored offshore along a long narrow beach, and commercial docks were small and scarce. In fact, the entire country looked just like a Gauguin painting with deep, shadowed jungle and high, narrow waterfalls like shimmering ribbons and riotous flowers.
French is, of course, the language spoken and my one year of high school French didn’t get us very far. English was fairly common so there was no real problem. With boats from around the world in the anchorage, every imaginable language was heard. Having had a Tahitian friend some years earlier I had grown used to her sweet, languid approach to life, typical of her Polynesian countrymen.
We spent a few days exploring, meanwhile deploring the outrageous price of everything. Fresh seafood was wonderful, as to be expected, as was the fresh produce, but a decent meal cost a small fortune and salad greens, being imported, were very dear.
We took a bus tour around the island, being very eager to visit the Paul Gauguin museum on the back side. It was disappointingly small, with only one of the master’s works on display. It had been painted during his early period in Normandy, a preview of his great talent, but a far cry from his glorious Tahitian works.
A short trip by motor launch took us to the nearby island of Moorea, 10 miles out. Our hotel was brand new, right on the beach and very comfortable and I got the worst sunburn of my life. Having lived in the tropics for 12 years, I knew I was breaking all the rules about sunning, but I had a hard time staying inside. Lynn had a voyeur’s holiday with all the French mademoiselles lounging around topless.
W arranged a tour around the island the first morning. I was waiting in the lobby wondering where he’d disappeared to when he came dashing in waving his arms. “Cancel the tour! I’ve rented a motorbike!”
My heart sank; I remembered one disastrous trip on a bike with him some years back, but realizing how small the island was, how could we get in trouble? I hopped on the back and we putted off. It was fun, stopping to beachcomb, chat with passersby, and explore coves and inlets. The road was level and skirted the beach, the inland being mountainous. Suddenly Lynn veered off on a gravel side road and we began to climb. A sharp turn ahead, too much speed and I was dumped off the rear end as the bike went down.
So there I sat again, legs skinned and bleeding, mad as a wet hen. Apologies didn’t help; I’d known better than to get on that cursed machine. Being aware of that made me even madder. That dare-devil never could resist the lure of a gravel road with twists and turns in it.
Between the major sunburn on the top and those raw, scraped legs, the rest of my time on Moorea was spent quietly. Warm sea water can be very healing so I basked in any shady cove I could find.
Strolling along the road near our hotel one morning, we met a couple from New Zealand carrying a bag of groceries from a tiny market nearby. They had won their trip to Moorea in a raffle, airfare and lodging for a week, but were leaving the next morning after only 2 days. Their problem? They couldn’t afford the food, were reduced to eating a few scanty snacks and were nearly broke. I guess it was a case of be careful what you wish for.
Our time and money were getting a little low too by then and we decided we’d been gone long enough; we were missing our family and it was time to get back to reality ourselves. The long trip back to Los Angeles was uneventful. I managed to cope with peeling skin and legs that didn’t want to bend, and we stepped off the plane after nearly 5 months of what had been truly the trip of a lifetime.