Monday, September 14, 2009
Traveling French Polynesia by Supply Ship Part 5
First thing in the morning we started unloading supplies in Manihi, an atoll I know well from the days we used to fly there before Ahe got an airport. Manihi's village is right at the very short but deep pass and is one of my least favorite villages in the archipelago. The dock area is pleasant, with a big ancient tree you can sit under for shade and a little store to get a cold drink, but the rest of the village is strangely over-run with concrete and everyone has big walls or fences enclosing their yards. The closed off yards make the village feel closed off and empty too since everyone is hidden behind their fences, watching TV or doing whatever it is they do.
Jasmine and I went to try and find an old dear friend, Mama Tepuku who is in her 70s and who spends about half her time in Manihi. I asked around and strangely no one knew who I was talking about. I guess it just seemed too weird for anyone to register that these two random white girls with accents would be asking for an old Paumotu lady who hardly spoke any French. Finally we found Tepuku's house and were greeted by a 20-something man who, looking at us only from the corner of his eye, yelled into the house that some white girls, "des dames blanches," were there. A pudgy local girl with a toddler came out and told us that no, Tepuku wasn't on Manihi right now but invited us in for a drink. Ends up she was Tepuku's niece and knew who I was and we had a nice chat. Afterwards we went back to the dock where we ran into a few other old friends so it was a pleasant stop.
A few hours later we were docking at Ahe, our final stop where we had a near hero's welcome from all our friend's in the village as well as my husband who came with the outboard to pick us up. An arrival after flying just doesn't compare - everyone knew we had spent days getting there and it was more like meeting long lost family after months on the Oregon trail than greeting someone after clearing customs.
In all, traveling by supply ship is the Polynesian equivalent of a US road trip, stopping in random towns, eating where you can and making friends along the way. You need time to travel this way but that's the beauty of it. By the end of the boat voyage my body had lost every ounce of stress, all sense of time and any notion of a pressure to get somewhere. Sitting and doing nothing besides staring at the sea now seemed normal and pleasant and in a sense this made me feel much, much more Polynesian.