Baba BarAnn Around the Pacific


Chapter 11 - Papeete and Tahiti

Papeete - the big city

We rapidly recovered from "culture shock" after entering Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Who wouldn't get used to food markets that actually had produce for sale? Mirroring our experiences in the Marquesas, checking in with immigration, customs, and the port captain was efficient and easy. Unlike Mexico, which strategically placed these offices in separate, remote corners of each city, they were all in the same building in Papeete. True happiness was being able to fill up our wallets at banks that accepted VISA.

Carrot Cake on Carina
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The first order of business in Papeete was to put together a surprise 40th birthday party for Candace. We arrived on June 3rd and the big date was June 6, so I had to work fast. Sixteen other cruisers were waiting at a nice Chinese restaurant to sing Happy Birthday when we walked in. I'm sure she was really surprised. She got a few small presents from some of them, but she didn't seem too happy with my special gift to her, two 150 foot stern anchor lines, 3/4" poly. What more could she have wanted?

Everything you've read about high prices in Tahiti is true. There is no income tax in French Polynesia; you could never collect it in a largely agrarian economy with such widely dispersed islands. So the government's major sources of income are import taxes, duties, and public services. Long distance telephone calls to the US run $8-9 per minute. Oil products, liquor, and almost everything else that's imported is hit with a stiff import duty. As a result of these inflated prices, home grown produce commands a commensurately high price. Decades ago, I remember reading in Econ 101 about "elastic demand" and product substitution. If the price for imported apples is too high, people will increase the demand for lower priced domestic fruit. This higher demand results in an increase in domestic fruit prices. In French Polynesia, taxes keep the price of apples artificially high. How high? Up to a $1.70 per pound for apples. Plums . . . $5.00 per pound.

Get this, bing cherries at $12.00 per pound! Pampers were on sale at $26.50 for a box of 40. A week old USA Today newspaper costs $4.10. Eggs vary from $3.20 per dozen up to $13.00 per dozen (I don't think they were golden). Scotch is about $30 for a 750 ml bottle. One of the few bargains is canned New Zealand butter at $1.65 per pound. So much for economics. In Papeete, we fixed everything that had broken along the way. These projects included the sewing machine (a local Pfaff dealer fixed it for a reasonable price), camera (just the film had broken, not the camera), broken or chafed lines, American flag replaced, a few staysail hanks replaced, outboard motor carburetor cleaned, two steps installed at the top of the mast, radar dome resecured, refrigerator defrosted, and some provisions added. With the luxury of a hose connected to a shore side supply of potable water, we filled our tanks and washed down the boat. Except for 35 gallons taken on via jerry jugs in the Marquesas, this was the first time we've taken on water since San Diego six months ago. All other water that we had used for drinking, washing, and cleaning since then had been made with our water maker.

The biggest project was recovering the cushions. Candace found some attractive all cotton, color fast, material. It's a Polynesian print with tan, pink and powder blue colors in a floral pattern. She covered all eight cushions in the salon, plus the seat in the vee berth. My only job was to cover the buttons and sew them into the cushions. They look great. And the cotton feels much better than the scratchy, old, dirty, boring stuff.

Sunset behind Moorea
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We read a few books and enjoyed talking with the many other cruisers in the harbor. The weather was perfect. A little hot during the day, cool at night, no bugs, and beautiful sunsets with Moorea in the background. Chuck saw the "green flash" at sunset several times; we could only see the green flash from the channel markers. The piroque racers became more and more serious as Bastille Day approached.

At times, we watched two or three dozen canoes furiously practicing in the harbor. Once in a while, a canoe would be accidentally flipped, treating all aboard to an embarrassed dunking. Those canoes seemed to be as tippy as a wind surfer. Sometimes, when they would row close to us, they would all be singing "Baba Bah Baba BarAnn". The Beach Boys are even big in Tahiti.

We both went to the dentist for a cleaning (with ultra-sound) and check up. The dentist commutes to Bora Bora on weekends to be with her husband, a doctor. We enjoyed talking with her, and have been invited to see her in Bora Bora when we get there. I saw a doctor to have a wart removed that's been bothering me. It's on my pinkie, which the French call the "ear finger." Their definition makes more sense.

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Dinghy Wars

While walking back from "downtown," after another frustrating trip produced neither mail nor our French Polynesia ham radio call signs, I saw three boys getting into my dinghy and rowing it away. They were between 11 and 14 years old. I hustled to the beach and yelled at them in my most indignant French. They promptly brought it back. While I was rowing out to Baba BarAnn, they got into another dingy, (it was Achates''s from Juneau) and started rowing it. I then noticed that they had cut my painter. I was really ticked, as I yelled "Vous coupez ma ligne!" and started after them. They each said "Pas Moi!", while beating a hasty retreat to shore. The last one out of the boat threw a knife into the water, getting rid of the incriminating evidence, and fled on foot with the others.

The next day, about noon, I saw the same three boys motoring around the anchorage in a hard dinghy, and I told them to leave. Two hours later, they had returned, to another boat, Karefree, cut the line to their painter, and were dragging it away. This was really dumb, since KAREn and GeofFREE were on their boat at the time. Geoff yelled to another boat for assistance, and they started chasing after the kids. The kids stopped towing the dinghy, and got away. Geoff then swung by Baba BarAnn and told us what had happened. In a few seconds, I was in our dinghy, Adolf from Rose'l, was in his, and the chase was on.

Three dinghies (that's us with the white hats on) chasing three little kids in their boat. All across Papeete harbor we chased after the little SOB's. I was gradually losing ground (losing water?) since I had a 5 HP motor, while the other three motors were all 9.9 HP. By the airport, about a mile away, they turned into a little estuary. I cut the corner, to catch up, and quickly saw the coral reefs a few inches under the dinghy. BAM! The motor hit on the reef, and kicked up. Luckily the rubber dinghy didn't get punctured on the reef. Can you imagine sinking in eight inches of water, a half mile offshore? I quickly rowed to deeper water, and rejoined the chase. As I rounded the corner, I saw that Geoff and Adolph had apprehended the little monsters. From what I heard later, the kids had gotten out of the boat, but Adolph commanded them to get back into their boat.

Who cares if they didn't understand English with a thick German accent? They quickly got back into their boat and placidly awaited their future. Adolph moved their gas tank into his boat so that they couldn't escape. Then we proceeded to tow them, all the way back across the harbor, to the gendarmes. When the "big chase" was going on, another boat was trying to contact the Port Captain and the gendarmes on the VHF radio. This resulted in every boat with a radio on being notified of our activities. I went ahead to get assistance on shore. While I was riding around downtown Papeete with three gendarmes in their "paddy wagon" trying to intercept the flotilla by Charles De Gaulle Park, the Port Captain sent out a boat to render assistance. Then we all trooped to the police station. As you might imagine, nothing happened. Each kid had to be picked up at the police station by his parents. Hopefully they won't be so quick to "borrow" somebody's dinghy in the future.

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Alex Rejoins Baba BarAnn

We finally got our mail on June 15, a full two weeks after it left Colorado. Perhaps one of the biggest hassles of the cruising life is getting mail. We have our mail forwarded about every six weeks, and the postage runs over $100 each time. It's a little painful paying postage for some of the magazines and correspondence. For example, alumni fund raising pleas and Society of Actuaries newsletters pass through the "junk mail filter" and unfortunately get forwarded to us. But we treasure the few pieces of "real mail," so it's all worth it. Our concern for the mail was heightened because we were trying to arrange for my son Alex to visit us. After some difficulty getting plane reservations, Alex arrived on June 22 for a three week stay. We'd completed all our projects in Papeete, and were looking forward to seeing the rest of the Society Islands with Alex.

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Paul Gauguin Museum

We spent two days at Taina, south of Maeva Beach, on the northwest coast of Tahiti, then went to the south coast. In a little bay, which we had all to ourselves one night, we anchored by the Botanical Gardens and the Paul Gauguin Museum. We dinghied to shore and walked around the gardens. There were many strange trees and ferns unique to the South Pacific, with very few flowers. We saw an attendant who asked if we'd paid a dollar for entrance to the gardens. When we said, "No," that we were from the boat, she said "OK." This confirms what other cruising guides had mentioned. I'd read that the law allows everyone access from the sea to the entire Tahitian coastline. Rather than fence off the gardens from the sea, which would look ugly, and be expensive, they've elected to allow a handful of "freeloaders" to enter the gardens by dinghy.

Next we dinghied over to the museum. If we'd walked out the gate to the museum, we would have to reenter via the gate to get our dinghy, and they could charge us for that. The museum was primarily a biography of Paul Gauguin, with only a handful of original paintings, and many copies. Until age 22 he was a sailor, having sailed around Cape Horn twice, and to Tahiti once. Then he was a stock broker in Paris, married a prominent Dane, and sired five children. At age 35 he left it all, family and job, to paint full time. He lived the last few years of his life in poverty on Hiva Oa. The museum showed photographs and ancient Egyptian paintings that he'd copied for his pictures, substituting Polynesians for the original "models." Gauguin was disliked by the French, partially because of his anti-establishment attitude and actions, and partially because of his 13 year old Marquesan mistress and model. It's easy for us to dislike someone with a 13 year old mistress, but what did the Marquesans think?

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The Beautiful Polynesians

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this trip to the "South Seas" was to see for myself the much fabled beauties of Polynesia. It has been written that both the men and women are among the most beautiful people in the world. From my observations, the myth is extremely alive and well, but far from the truth. By age thirty, virtually all women are quite fat and ugly, just like "Bloody Mary." The same holds true for most of the men. Marcia Davock in the Cruising Guide to Tahiti discusses the Tahitian feeling of "fiu" (boredom, or "I've had it!") when one is served with an air of nonchalance bordering on rudeness. Add one more "Aye aye" to that one. We've seen Tahitian "fiu" on numerous occasions. Those under age twenty are attractive, like children throughout the world, neither more nor less attractive. Perhaps their brown tanned skin and muscular male or topless female torso are the primary allure. They appear to be as happy as kids anywhere, and certainly a smiling face is the most beautiful feature on anyone. Perhaps they appear especially attractive after comparison with their dour elders.

What possible metamorphose could take place during the twenties? Not being able to speak Tahitian, and having a weak grasp of French, makes it difficult to discuss many sensitive topics. Over the last three months I've heard several stories, made my own observations, and arrived at the following conclusions. Please bear with my conjectures. We have no way to confirm the many stories but, on many occasions, we've heard that incest is still prevalent in Polynesia. Some have even gone so far as to say that small girls are encouraged to choose a male family member. When Captain Cook sailed into Tahiti, we read that his crew was "given" native women. These practices are reprehensible to our society, since those customs treat girls as little more than sexual objects. But it's well ingrained in their society.

In a different vein that shows major cultural differences, another cruiser supposedly talked to a Polynesian who admitted to cannibalism when he was a small boy. One of the first observations I made in Polynesia was how poorly behaved the little children were, and the physical slapping given them by their mothers. We've read that children are not disciplined prior to age three. After that they're probably beyond control. Fathers appear to be quite loving of their children, with all discipline being administered by mothers. We've seen grandparents, maybe they were great grandparents, taking care of children at the beach. The woman screamed at and cuffed the miscreants, while the male completely ignored the entire disciplinary process and actually tried to protect the little children.

We've also heard that Polynesian males often beat up their wives. This problem is exacerbated by the drinking problem that seems so prevalent for both the men and women. We've both seen several women with black eyes and puffed faces. We were told that the native women seek out European husbands. We thought it was for financial or social reasons. No. It's because the Marquesan males are such "violent lovers." In the Marquesas it was standard to see a male beach party, with lots of heavy drinking, and a separate female beach party with similar staggering and slobbering. The only time we've been in a car in Polynesia was with Giselle and Pierre at Nuka Hiva. Along with every other car, we were stopped at a road block and Pierre, the driver, was required to take a breathalyzer test. We hadn't been drinking, and of course he passed the "test," but it's indicative of the official concern for drunkenness in the Marquesas. I've talked to one cruiser who believes the drinking problem is a reaction to the westernization of their beautiful culture. I believe that these problems have always existed, and that the culture is far from beautiful.

It's my opinion that the Polynesians pamper their children, with most of the love coming from the male. This arrangement changes once the children marry. The woman assumes the role of wife and mother. Resentment of the changed role in her life can be directed toward her children, and especially the boys. The "macho" husband expects to be served by his wife, and is perhaps even looked up to by his peers if he beats his wife to obtain his desires. After being cuffed and beaten by his mother for so long, now it's time for the male to turn the tables on the woman in his life.

We were discussing the Polynesians with some other cruisers who sailed across the Pacific last year, and were on their way back east. They said that the three major problems were: drugs, wife beating, and incest. They confirmed that some Polynesian women were almost proud of the black eyes and bruises they "wore." The wounds indicated that they had a "real man." Just like the image of the caveman clubbing his woman over the head and dragging her away. They talked at length of the violent Samoans, where both the men and women were extremely large and aggressive. They discussed specific situations which showed that incest was a major concern. Once a girl turns twelve she might receive advances from a brother, a father, or anyone. Everyone talks openly about the "given" children. Little kids are given, like gifts. It's common for the first born to be given to the grandmother. This would be especially convenient if the mother were quite young. So much for the "beautiful" Polynesians.

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