Sunday, June 12, 2011

On Dry Land

This morning, I finally stepped onto dry land, and the first people I spoke to were the kids lining the narrow concrete wharf, watching me cautiously approach in my Quicksilver RIB and tiny Mercury outboard. They called out in French of course and all I could say in reply was "Bonjour, Bonjour"

The day wasn't as sunny as the evening sky had suggested it might be, and there were one or two light showers but there was still lots of sun and the gusts were less than 10 knots. After breakfast and a tidy up of boat and passenger, it took 45 minutes to haul the Roll-Up out of the forward hatch, unroll and inflate and launch it, and attach the outboard. I took my passport and Certificate of Clearance from NZ, as well as some snacks and some money, my camera and French Phrase book and set off. The entrance through the reef is shallow and narrow with small waves breaking either side, but having watched several locals paddle their outrigger canoes in, it was apparent that the best approach was quite close to the reef on the northern side of the pass, and that is what I did. There were no problems and I steered to a launching ramp, cut the motor and stepped out into the shallows. The kids crowded round chattering but I couldn't converse with them, just took my stuff up onto the grass, then the outboard and then the dinghy, carrying it up on my back.

There were actually dozens and dozens of people watching me! They had arrived and set up a big tent by the wharf earlier in the morning, were broadcasting recorded music through powerful speakers, and had beach volleyball nets set up. Under the tent women sat weaving hats and making other handicraft, and families sat along the water front under trees with kids playing in the sand nearby. I gathered it was some sort of Fete. They had a surprising number of huge octopus just caught from the reef, and were tenderizing them by smashing them on rocks by the wharf.

I didn't find the Police or Customs so have spent a day as an illegal immigrant in French Polynesia. Many people in their attempts at conversing with me, guessed I was from "le bateau" (the boat) but no one seemed that interested in legalities of Entry so I stopped asking for "le gendarme" and eventually wandered off to explore the town. It was far bigger than the impression I had from the boat. There were several clean concrete streets parallel to the shoreline and some cross streets, so perhaps 60 or more houses. They were all pretty neat and tidy, small, tin roofs, low walls with sliding gates, and most with fruit and coconut trees all round. Some were obviously abandoned, a few had neatly tended graves in the lawn and there were a few tiny cars, small 4WD 's and motor scooters. It was all very quiet. Dogs wandered about, as did lots of chooks and there were numerous pigs, each tied by a short leash to a nearby tree. I found a tiny store that was crammed with wares, selling everything from beer to tinned food and T shirts but there were no fresh vegetables or fruit - I would imagine everyone grows there own, such is the lushness of the place - but there was some bread! At first the shopkeeper was reluctant to accept foreign money, but a woman came in who spoke better English than he did and eventually he took my ten Aussie dollars and gave me the bread and some change. A second lady came, there was another discussion about me, and he then gave me more change - 500 Francs. I think he was over generous actually, because I have since checked the rate and its about 85 to the dollar, so tomorrow if I go back I'll return some of it. Everyone was very friendly but not over inquisitive.

Later, after wandering through their very tidy Cemetery, high on the hillside, I sat and chatted with 4 guys who offered me beer and marijuana, as they sat drinking and smoking outside what looked like a closed warehouse building. They said it was "le magasin" - the Shop- and would open later .I declined their offers but we had a nice interaction, and I think arranged to meet again tomorrow. One of them wants to give me some bananas and some coconuts - well that's what I got out of the conversation, shall see what actually happens tomorrow!

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