Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doing Time With Dick

Our passage to Tahiti, with Dick along for the ride, was a day and a half long (220 nautical miles) and uneventful. As the wind petered out we arrived in Papeete, the capital city of Tahiti, and French Polynesia in general, just as festivities were ramping up in celebration of Bastille Day. On the agenda were outrigger races, nightly inter-island traditional song and dance competitions and various ancient sports. The stone-lifting, fruit-carrying and javelin-throwing brings to mind our strong-man competitions back home.

We attended two song and dance competitions and were impressed by the grandiosity of the events, with upward of 80 dancers and 20 musicians, full costume and festive crowds. The dances are performed as a chieftain or Polynesian princess-type struts through the choreography, narrating the legend around which the dance centers. Family members and friends in the audience shout words of encouragement to the many performers on stage and sweep everyone up in their excitement. The rhythm section beat a nice tempo for the swaying hips and stomping feet as the dancers sweat, trussed in palms, grasses, flowers and shells. Meanwhile a panel of judges looks on.

While we amused ourselves with the festivities and the camaraderie of fellow cruisers on the quai, we also had the boat to attend to. This was our first opportunity to tie up to a dock, and thus our first access to a fresh-water washdown since Mexico. Aye, we were salty. And then there was the grungy, sweaty job of clearing out all the stores packed away in our stern that, for weeks, had been slopping sudsily about in our leaking laundry detergent. It least it was “eco-friendly.” We set out to splice a new snubber (a line that relieves the anchor chain’s load) and seek out new battens to replace the ones we’d lost or broke. The latter task remains undone and unlikely to be remedied until we get to New Zealand.

And yet, despite the festivities, despite the boat chores, the focus of our time and attention in Tahiti centered uncomfortably on our stowaway, Dick. Our feelings about Dick were mixed. We first realized there may be an issue as it dawned on us that, after our arrival, Dick seemed inclined to stick around. He has numerous family and friends in Papeete but no one welcomed him with open arms after his 4 years of, what now seems to have been, “exile” in the Tuamotus. And so he stayed. After a couple nights Ben told Dick he’d need to find somewhere else to sleep. But with that we discovered he instead spent the night sleeping in our dinghy. Well, that seemed a little absurd and, all along, he had tried to make himself useful so we welcomed him back in our fold. Certainly it was not a one-way street, as he cooked, arranged a driving tour of the island with his nephew Whitman and helped us see to the boat. All in all a fair exchange. And yet we couldn’t help but notice his self-destructive and rather adolescent behavior, the cause, no doubt, of his estrangement from his family. His first night in town he spent a third of his meager reserve of pennies on beer and drank into the night, slinking about town to avoid the wrath and disapproval of his centenarian grandfather. On the other hand he is warm, open and surprisingly honest about himself. We appreciated his help, and breathed a sigh of relief when we waved goodbye.

We spent one more night in Tahiti, south of town, to fuel up and provision ourselves with the very French amenities (and, sadly, very Polynesian prices) at Carrefour, the French equivalent of an upper-crust Walmart. Tahiti has so much more to offer than Papeete alone but we find ourselves in need of moving on, as my 3-month visa is drawing closer to its date of expiration. With Moorea inviting cruisers on the horizon, a mere hop away from Tahiti, it tends to be the next destination in line as you make your way, island by island, west. But, we’d heard through the grapevine that Moorea is steadily metamorphosing into one big mega-resort and decided that, as we’re now pressed for time, that we’d set our sights on the next island over and a half day away, Huahine.

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