Despite still living on the boat, we were now moored up in Papeete in Tahiti Nui and I was making that sea-to-land transition without too much bother. After weeks without crowds and flashy lights and shop windows full of unnecessary lures, I had been looking forward – a little – to some built up bustle and human life.
But postcard pictures of Tahiti, with their promises of a tropical paradise, didn’t deliver. I half expected Robinson Crusoe emptiness and fallen coconuts scattered on wide, white sand beaches, and maybe a little bar built out of wooden slats tinkling out upbeat songs to paddling and sunbathing holidaymakers. I thought back to my time in Mompiche in Ecuador and predicted something along those lines, only lit by a warmer sun and dropping off to a vibrant, turquoise horizon. I knew that as the main hub of Tahiti, Papeete would be a bit more of a regular, developed city but again previous adventures channelled my expectations and I anticipated something closer to the carless charm of Ilha Grande in Brazil.
Needless to say, with a head full of romanticised candyfloss, my first impressions of being back in civilisation weren’t great.
The sail in to Papeete should have given me some idea of what to expect. Perfectly planted palms and trimmed, irrigated parks did little to set my excitement alight.
And yet, I was excited as we approached Papeete, and I caught myself holding my breath as I stood on deck and watched glaring shopping centre signs and double lane road running alongside the marina moorings get closer and closer.
In the town itself my eyes zoomed into the duality of the place, to lazy grafitti tags and rubbish thrown on the floor, to pristine lawns and carefully constructed window dressings full of jewellery and pictures of airbrushed women draped in pearls and handsome men.
I searched for free WiFi, but found only gifts and food that cost a small fortune. The famous fast-food joint, which in other countries is known to lure in travellers with the promise of internet access, had only the usual glossy wall pictures and a predominantly obese clientele.
In a side road I saw a woman lean over and onto a bin, dirtied white pants reaching high above her rolling waistline, no other clothes, whilst a group of well-dressed friends sat in a trendy cafe on the next street across.
On the edge of a little shopping centre a middle-aged man held out his hand to a passing woman, man and boy, who instead dropped coins into the hands of a sweetie vendor.
But really, none of this is that unusual. Although Papeete suffers the same ailments as many a built up town, my disappointment was my own fault, possibly influenced by tourism advertising, inflated expectations and island dreams, but ultimately the result of a hopeful imagination. And, maybe, because the slick side of the town – the ‘better’ side – was so not my thing, frustrations with society and consumerism and all those bigger issues were brought back to the forefront. And the irony? I’d just sailed in on a million plus catamaran. Sure, it wasn’t my boat or the boat of the boys onboard (we were on a delivery) but without this world and these extravagant lifestyles, the privilege of sailing the South Pacific Seas would never have occurred.
My mind had a bit of a wrestle about and after a few weeks of living in a dream world of the Pacific Ocean sail, reality wasn’t just giving me a nibble. She was biting hard, locking down her jaw and thrashing her head about.
And so, I couldn’t help but feel a bit deflated. Where was this paradise that people spoke of? Was it equated to expensive purchases and monotone restaurants dishing up small servings on large plates?
I definitely needed to do some more exploring.