Girdling the world starting from Perth - Part II
The next call in my return trip to Australa was Faaa Airport, Tahiti. This stop over had a strong emotional appeall to me. It took place on that same spot of our departure from the paradise Island where we spent the happiest times of our lives. When we left the island, all our local friends went to the airport to wish us farewell. No sooner I stepped on that very soil tears run from my eyes, so moved I was remembering the unforgetable day of our departure. It was a terrible feeling to be separated from our dear little floating home, the brave Sea Bird, which so bravely had brought us there, but at least we had the consolation that she would be even better cared by Michel, our friend who bought the boat. We had bought home bound tickets via Easter Island, what was reason for great excitement from my part, since visiting that island was one of my dreams. That evening all our friends came to the airport to wish us farewell. Each one who embraced us gave us two kisses and placed shell leis around our necks. Now, forty-five years later, the scenario was different. No friends, no leis, but the enchanted atmosphere of the place was absolutely the same.
The first impression I had was the best possible. Entering the airport hall, even before facing customs, passengers were greeted by two couples of singers/dancers who were giving a show of folklorick culture, performing a fantastic South Seas tune.
The distance from the airport to the Meridian Hotel, from the district of Faaa to the district of Punauia, this time gave me the impression to be longer than what was engraved in my memory, almost one hour in a well paved hihgway, which already existed in 1969, but now duplicated. It seems that when one lives great times somewhere the images that are inprinted in one`s memory are far rosier than reality. I used to ride from Papeete to Punauia in my mini-bike as one of my favourite leasures, among other things to enjoy a Tahitian sauna, which consisted in diving in the placid warm waters of the emerald coloured lagoon and next dipping in the freezing cold stream that flew into the lagoon, having to enter into the bush at the other side of the road to accomplish that. It is told in the book "Rio to Polynesia" that the vahines (girls in Tahitian) poked fun of my ridiculous ladies`mini-bike, asking if I coluld give them a lift in the frame bar... Good times! For me at that time the distance was a stone throw. Now the taxi took almost one hour to do only part of the stretch I considered short lasting pedaling by then. When arriving at the hotel I was tired stiff from the interminal flight journey, going straight to bed. New emotions were left for the next day, when they came in torrents.
In 1969 the Island Council decided that new buildings of touristic interest should be designed in Polynesian style. We were there when this hotel lobby had been completed.
After staying away for forty-five years all I wanted to do was matching present images with those of the past. There was not even a trace of deception. Every single part of the planet changed in this mean time, and Tahiti would be no exception. However if sharp changes occurred, they didn`t come to destroy the charm of the place. What can no more be seen, at least where I had been this time, were the bamboo walled "fares" (houses in Tahitian), with thatched roof and straw carpets on the floor, the trade mark of the dwellings were the natives lived. They were cool in the Tahitian summer and had everything to do with their culture, but in the twenty-first century there is no room for nostalgic feelings.
In 2014 the trend to reproduce the Polynesian architectural style was kept and most new buildings follow the a resemblance with the traditional Maori constructions. This is Hotel Meridian where I stayed, a building of extreme good taste.
I hope to return to Tahiti at least once more, if possible in a sailboat and having the family together with me. It is a shame my daughter Astrid having visited so many countries and never had the chance to know how it looks like the place where she was born. Visiting Park Bougainville where Eileen used to take Astrid in her pram to profit from the morning sun was quite touching, leaving my eyes dimmed in tears.
Eileen used to take Astrid to Park Bougainville during the early morning. Sea Bird was stationed in the Water Front just to the other side of the park.
The park didn`t change much, keeping the atmosphere of a place to stay when wanting to breath pure air under the shade of dense trees. However, even resembling the original, the billboard is not the same.
When we lived there during the first stay it was built the Territorial Assembly, a construction with the height of a eight floors building, The venue was entirely made of laminated wood, an astonishing achievement at that époque. This building was demolished and another one occupies the same space, however with much more room to spare. Notwithstanding, this saddened me, since the first construction was so beautiful! I already was a fan of the wood laminate technique, as a matter of fact I still love it, since Sea Bird was built that way, and J had been involved with the construction of the largest cold moulded yacht ever built using this building method, the impressive 140 feet L.O.A. cruising sailboat Antonia (see in our home page: "about us"). Seeing a big building being made with this same cold moulded technique that I so highly praised was hair rising to me.
Eileen extending nappies to dry on Sea Bird`s foredeck. A few weeks later Sea Bird was being sold to our friend Michel Le Noan. This time I asked taxi drivers and other persons to whom I talked, if hey had any clue about Sea Bird`s destiny, but nobody who I met ever heard about her.
When we lived aboard our mini-cruiser, we felt as if we were the happiest couple on earth. However with Astrid`s birth we began considering a twenty-five foot L.O.A. sailboat narrow as a knife in the water, to be too small to go sailing with a baby on board. We don`t regret for one minute taking the decision of selling her. The well being of our daughter was above all else.
I loved this lager. In 1969 there were two trademarks brewed in the island: Hinano and Manuhia. Manuhia was discontinued and now Hinano reins. When I visited the old market where we went everyday to buy groceries, fruits and fish, the first thing that occurred to me was to order a Hinano to sip without hurry. This time I didn`t do any shopping, however the Hinano was there waiting for me!
I remember like if it was today that when we went shopping in the Municipal market, the Tahitian matrons always sold us their goods for a much higher price than that they charged to their countrymen. On the other hand when we were served by a Chinese saleswoman this never happened. Presently the Polynesians perform the less noble functions in the local society, while the Chinese community is quite wealthy.
Moorea is the most beautiful place where I had been that I can remember. In 1968 we spent the most happy Christmas of our lives on board the classic yacht Te Reva, belonging to our friend Frnancis Dumanski, the popular Popov. The rower in the dinghy is our friend Jacques, one of the characters of our story.
Since the time of my stay was short I preferred to remain in Tahiti, but I couldn`t miss the chance of taking this photo of Moorea from Punauia. It is a shame that time never tics backwards...but in this case it is as if the clock had stopped. I`m just missing the pirogue with outrigger in the landscape I photographed forty-five years ago.
Even though the gorgeous Punauia Beach being just a stone throw from the hotel lobby, the wealthy hosts preferred to bathe in the artificial lagoon swimming pool, sipping their favourite drinks staying in waist-deep water instead of going to the much prettier lagoon with the same pristine waters. For the filthy reach Americans I met in the hotel, staying in the Bahamas, Seichelles, or Tahiti made little difference, what counting being the taste of the drinks they were savouring.
The bungalows on stilts built in the hotel`s property were a novelty for me. In my time there was no hotel there and the landscape I knew was the same as seen by Wallis, the discoverer of the island, and Captain Cook, who arrived there three years later, some two hundred and fifty years ago. What was a shock for me was not seeing a single fish, when forty-five years ago shoals of coral fish of all colours swam at an arm`s lenght from us. I`m afraid the coral sea is in dire straits.
Presently the local and international cruising fleets don`t station anymore in Papeete`s Water Front. Now the "point" is the Punauia Marina. The socializing which happened in the side walk way ago, now it takes place in the marina`s bar, where the atmosphere resembles that chosen by adventurous sailors no matter where they are in the world.
At present there is a gallery of mega-yachts for charter in Tahiti. This cat can take dozens of passengers to whatever island of Polynesia they fancy to visit.
This monohull charter yacht was stationed in Papeete. It is a striking contrast with the trade schooners we used to see their departures for the distant islands. Now most of the islands have airports and travelling in schooners is no more the only way of reaching the distant archipelagos.
It looks like it was yesterday when Eileen and I came to the municipal market to do our shopping. The difference is that now the steel structure is painted in bright colours and it is no more a place run by natives.
The church where Astrid was baptised is still there, exactly the same... The street is better paved now, however, even though I tried, I couldn`t find any one of our friends of that times anymore. A feeling of nostalgia filled my heart.
The book "Rio to Polynesia" tells about Astrid`s baptism:
"When Astrid was a month old we decided to baptise her. This turned out to be the most important event at the Waterfront for a long time. We invited a lot of people, amongst them native Tahitians, French residents and our cruising friends. We chose Catherine Deshumeurs, the wife of Bernard Moitessier`s crew Pièrre, and Popov, our best friend in Tahiti, to be Godparents, and wearing Bermudas, our Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, set off to the Church for the ceremony.
The only incident that day was the refusal of the father to christen our daughter with the name Astrid Tahiauutona, alleging it was a pagan name; as if the Lord could care what his people were called! The reception that followed could not be compared to Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Bounty banquet, but maybe because of Eileen’s skill in preparing for parties and the great interest of the women in such events, the feast exceeded all expectations.
Our friends improvised a long table, using sheets of plywood on trestles, covering them with tablecloth. Eileen placed on this a huge jar, which she had filled with a delectable rum punch, and prepared enough sandwiches for an army. Each guest contributed cookies, pasties and other dainty morsels, and all this was set out on the public pavement. No wonder the promenade became too narrow for the large crowd that gathered there, comprising our guests, tourists and passers-by. The crowd only started dispersing when the jar of rum-punch was no longer refilled, and our family returned to Sea-Bird".
That was one of the happiest days in our lives. Iaorana Tahiti!