‘I was wondering how you meet people whilst you’re travelling’, said my friend Alan. He’d been having a coffee in Papeete by himself and got thinking about solo travel, about how conversations start, about how the hell I end up having such random meetings and funny moments with total strangers. The truth is, I’m not totally sure how it works, but it just does. Meeting Heirami was no exception.
I’d hitched a catamaran ride over to Moorea, an island 17km west of Tahiti and done some basic exploration of the island before saying goodbye to my captain and crew. After such a special adventure, we’d grown close and it had reminded me of the solidarity and support of longer standing friendships and family life. It was pushing on towards the one year mark since I’d set off on my solo adventure and I realised that I craved some familiarity and comfort.
Because I was unwell. Again. Nasty tropical sores had given me a fever and sent infection down the length of my left leg. I couldn’t put any weight on it so planned bike rides and on foot exploration were a no go.
Instead I reluctantly tucked into another round of antibiotics and set up base in the simple yet affordable shacks of Camping Nelson, each day hobbling my way across a small patch of grass to the honeymoon sands of a picture perfect beach.
Which is where I met Heirami.
It was difficult not to notice Heirama, a smooth skinned, tribally tattooed guy with upright posture and a firm, naked bootie. A dancer at a nearby hotel, he walked confidently up and down the main stretch of the beach, stopping to splash around with families in the shallows, or to pick up a coconut, crack it open and offer it up to whoever was close-by and wanted to drink its water.
Which was me, on this occasion. And actually, after a few days of hermitting, I was craving some company.
So I nibbled at the coconut flesh and listened to his lemon juice advice for my tropical sores. We sat in the bubbles of the ‘jacuzzi’ – a pooled area where the water rushes in and gurgles around – and he taught me Polynesian words and songs through call and response. I learnt about the different career choices of his siblings and about his journey from the Tuamotu islands to Moorea.
The sun started to set. ‘Pahari’ I said as I got up to leave that pretty little beach and Heirami, who was taking one last moment and still standing proud in his nakedness. ‘Pahari’, he said, sticking up his hand for some goodbye contact.
I left him there, silhouetted against a streaked peach sky.