WanderingDan’s Weblog

Tahiti…not what I was expecting
March 1, 2013, 5:28 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It started out like any other normal port day (as I reach for a handful of moss) …no clue about the area…no plans…just a ‘get-off-the-ship-and-see-what-happens’ mentality. Like just about any other port, I wander through the streets of Papeete, content to soak up what I can of life and culture on French Polynesia. The architecture reflects other tropical islands of similar geography who have to deal with issues of salt corrosion, rust and tropical storms…I try to figure out what it can be compared to, but end up with just a smorgasborg: Grand Canary, Cancun, Aruba…only everything is in french.

I never thought I’d end up here as I was wandering through town this morning…as I wrench another handful of wet moss off the rock next to me.

Originally I headed right, relative to the ship anyway, looking for some wifi and breakfast. I apparently went the direction away from town, as I later found out, since I wandered for a good hour before running into a sign that probably said ‘thanks for visiting’, but since my french is nonexistent, can only surmise as to its actual meaning. I’m guessing my interpretation was at least close, since beyond the sign was nothing but highway. So I turned around and eventually crossed the path of a quaint little establishment simply called ‘Tea House’. The manager and waitress spoke only slightly more english than I do french…so basically I order something with fish and coconut milk. I have no idea what I just ordered, but really don’t care, because my mind is still distracted by this hot polynesian waitress speaking french…that did it for me. The layout here is pretty serene, and I pick a table in the tropical foliaged courtyard, eventually to be attacked by mosquitos as soon as the food comes and I start putting sweet juice and honeyed toast in my starving belly. Apparently I ordered raw fish in some mixture of vegetables and lemon-grassy coconut milk. Truth to tell, it’s freaking amazing! I also have no idea what the exchange rate is, but at the moment really don’t care.

Reaching for a third handful of wet jungle moss, I look around and marvel at the fact I found a place completely away from humanity’s destructive footprint, then marvel at the course of events that brought me here. Several times I almost turned back, and probably should have, but kept either pushing on or circumventing potential danger.

Walking out of the Tea House with a full belly, I am now content to just wander, without an agenda. I mean, they pushed the all-aboard to 9pm tonight, so there’s no rush in my meanderings. When I head to the left of the ship, tourist-ville emerges, with its onslaught of trinket crap stores and poser shops. To my surprise I pass a Chinese import store with herbal liniments! After stocking up on Yunnan Baiyao patches and a bottle of Po Sum On (yes the name is a coincidence), I keep wandering, people watching and generally enjoying the splendor of the moment.

Making sure the 4th handful of moss is free of random jungle debris, I realize this round is probably sufficient…yet still look around for the next best rock to grab another.

With another 30 to 40 minutes of wandering, I start to get bored, and want to get away from people, or at least tourist-ville. So I head on the main drag towards the other end of town…past a school…where it turns and heads towards the misty mountains in the back-drop. Hmmm…okay, we’ll see where this goes!

Despite the lack of necessity, I reach for the fifth handful…it’s probably just the opportunity to elongate and savor the oddity of this moment.

Industrial buildings start to turn into houses as I work my way up the road. The further I go up, however, the more I realize the element of danger is increasing. Houses start turning into shacks, with torn corrugated roofs, random shit strewn about property…tools, toys, garbage. Cars start turning into auto graveyards, with specimens stripped of wheels, interiors…basically shells of metal, like a turtle shell devoid of turtle. I hit a fork in the road…one branch goes straight, past an apartment complex, and the other curves a sharp left and goes up steeply. I take that one. A hundred feet up this road I pass an apartment building I would have expected to be located in the heart of an urban Detroit ghetto. No doors or windows, and littered with graffiti and garbage. This is where the white boy turns around and goes the other way. Now the French polynesians aren’t as girthy and enormous as their Samoan or Tongan counterparts, but neither do they have stringy, gaunt genetics (like me). I go back to the fork in the road where this shirtless older dude is grilling something under the shade of a banana leaf. He looks half polynesian, a mix I’m seeing a lot of, and has some sort of roadside business set up under a tarp awning. “Do you speak English?” I ask. “No” he replies, wherein I still continue to speak to him in English. “What is that?” I enquire, pointing to the large lumps on his grill. “bla bla bla” he says in french, and points to the orbs, then up to the trees. I recognized these as the melon-sized prickly orbs hanging from the trees. It looks like durian, or bread fruit…not sure if it is, but for some reason I can’t recall have negative emotions connected to the stuff. Realizing the futility of this conversation, I point to the other road in the fork, then up to the top of the mountain, and ask him with shrugged shoulders “Does it go to the top?” In near-perfect universal communication, he replies in french “bla bla bla, croix, bla bla bla” motioning that there would be another fork and I should go left. Thanking him in one of the only french words I know “merci”, I head towards the other road, once again on a quest up the mountain.

After the fifth handful of moss, I declare the job finished…and ponder at the curiosity of how soothing it is to wipe with moist jungle moss. Pulling my clothes back up, I grab my bag and start back up the creek bed, still in awe with my surroundings.

On my road to the right I run across an old pitbull…clearly a retired fighter, evidenced by the scars on his mouth and face. He looks tired, but still I pass with a cautious eye, these old fighters can be unpredictable. He would be a lot more intimidating had he been a few years younger, kind of like a 60 year-old Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky…not as intimidating as 30 years ago, but still wouldn’t want to fuck with him. And the road continues up…then the pavement stops. I keep going. The shanties become more disheveled, the properties more indicative of poverty, and the amount of chained up pitbulls increase. I keep going, and finally run into that fork in the road the french dude told me about. He said go left, but there is a sign on the left tine of the fork that I think says something to the effect of ‘private property, do not trespass’…but once again, I don’t speak french. I decide to head to the right anyway, where the string of shacks continue till I lose sight of them around the bend. After a while I’m not sure if this is still a road, or some elongated driveway on someone’s property. Another loose dog takes an interest in me and starts following. Then up ahead it looks like the road just stops…or does it just narrow where the ‘house’ is and keep going? My curiosity prompts me to investigate…then I see the dog: a young, improperly cared-for pit tied to a car on the side of the ‘road’ with a cotton rope. He is perched on the car and jumps down towards me, not overtly aggressive, but how can I be sure? He reaches the end of his rope as I back up to the other side of the road. There is enough room for me to slide by him, but as I start to, realize there really isn’t any more road, and now this dog is howling and barking. Whoever put this dog here did it for a reason, and that reason is not lost on me. I back up as nonchalantly as possible and revert course the way I came. My heart breaks as the poor dog howls after me…his voice seems to be crying out for food and love more than to attack. But I really don’t want to risk having a jaw-locking dog clamp down on my arm way out here. Eventually I come back to the fork, and despite the signage, decide to head up anyway…upon closer inspection I think it says the property belongs to the catholic church. Ummm…ok. I keep going, and start to notice how I’m entering more and more of a jungle environment. The rain starts, then the thunder. I don’t see any lightning. Up and up I go. After a while this old 70’s 4×4 comes towards me down the road, slowly, because the steep road is slippery from both rock and mud. I step back, unsure if I will be ignored or apprehended by this vehicle. The glare on the windshield makes him invisible to me until he passes. My quick smile and wave are reciprocated…whew! Up I go…the rain increases, and for the first time a blinding flash of lightning. I count to five before the thunder strikes. Not bad, I muse, and keep hiking. The lightning gets closer, with counts of three, then two, then one…and the thunder is deafening. Stopping, I marvel at the fact I’m in a tropical lightning storm on the top of some random mountain in Tahiti, all alone…and thirsty. On the path I pass one of those huge jungle leaves on the ground which caught some rain water, like 18 inches wide and two feet long. I’ve always wanted to do this…picking up the leaf to drink I get some of it in, but most just rolls off the back as I try to balance it. The rain is now a downpour. I keep going. Eventually I run into a thick chain-link rope blocking the road. Tempted to keep going, I decide my daily quota of pitbull encounters has been met. Plus, I don’t know what shenanigans the Tahitian Catholic Church would pull off to keep out trespassers, and I’d rather not find out. Well…I guess this is where my trek ends…so I head back towards the last bend in the road when…hey, what’s that? A trail? I didn’t see this coming up…it’s a narrow trail at about a 60 percent decline into the valley of this Tahitian jungle…it doesn’t look overly used, but that’s hard to tell with jungle paths. Let’s see, it’s pouring down rain, I’m all alone, noone has any clue where I am…hell I don’t even really know where I am, and here’s this steep trail down into a jungle ravine of which I know nothing about. This is where a sensible person would err on the side of caution…but down into the unknown valley I go. Another crackle of thunder and lightning add to the moment. The trail goes straight down the ravine, no swich-backs at all. After what seems like ages of carefully negotiating the slick, steep trail, the end comes into view; this path leads straight to a gentle creek traversing the valley. Again, I find myself in awe at the beauty of the moment. As I approach the end I look for other signs of life in the area: primarily human. Noone. Zigzagging back and forth the creek from rock to rock, I continue to explore the hidden wonders of this valley up the creek. Then I realize I really need to use the bathroom…privacy doesn’t seem to be a problem, but what can I use to….ahhhhh…then I spy the thick moss on the rocks, and see a veritable goldmine of moss-covered rocks in a grove up ahead. After business has been properly conducted, I head up the creekbed, as before mentioned. Not long after I decide to turn around back towards the little pool in the creek where the trail ended, with every intention of skinny dipping. Down and down I go…by now the rain has mostly abated, still a gentle sprinkle, but nothing like the downpour before. Eventually I make it back down by pool and trailhead, on the opposite side of the creek. The water in the pool is a bit clearer than the other water up creek, which has muddied a bit in the rain (I presume), so I decide perhaps there is another pool down the creek that is even clearer, since the downstream water is visibly less muddy. As soon as I make this decision I hear an unusual sound from upstream, where I just came from…something between a mild explosion and a waterfall. I turn around and see a frothing muddy surge of water coming straight at me…sort of like in Lord of the Rings when the Liv Tyler elf chic summons the spirits in the water to take out the half-dead horse riders…only to a much lesser degree ofcourse. Nonetheless, it freaks me the hell out! I scurry across the creek not even thinking about the slippery rocks…and somehow make it across without slipping and jump up onto a taller boulder as the rush of frothy, hot chocolate looking water transforms the sleepy creek into a violent stream…the rocks I was prancing across nonchalantly a few minutes ago are now buried under the swift current. I’m fascinated by how quickly this happened. I would have thought the rain would cause the water levels to slowly rise, not sweep in like a freaking tsunami. I give up the idea of skinny dipping in this filthy muck, and decide to climb back up the trail…where I just happened to be in this bizarre little deluge. As I ascend the ravine soaking wet, a big smile creeps up on my face. Today has been a classic ‘nonsensical adventure’.


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