Category Archives: tahiti

And then it was over

australian-flag-mapAs I sat on the flat, spongy mattress of a cobbled together dorm room near the airport on the island of Tahiti listening to the woes of an eighteen year old French lad who’d had his money and laptop stolen whilst on a cruise out to the Tuamotus and now didn’t have any other option but to wait for a flight home, I realised that this too was the end of my journey.

Well, not really. If Stage 1 had been my initial South American adventures within Ecuador and Peru, and Stage 2 my previous time in Australia and New Zealand, then this travel through Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador followed by a delivery sail from the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti could be deemed Stage 3.

So Stage 3 was drawing to a close. There would still be more adventures up ahead, surely?

One of my favourite modern-day philosophers, Alain de Botton, says: ‘We’re getting better at learning how to structure journeys so that they can assuage what we’re lacking within us.’ And when I looked inside myself and questioned what was lacking (and causing a bit of concern), it was simple: health, familiarity, money. And a big, fat cuddle.

The biggest issue was my health, and my body was begging me to settle for a while. In the last few months, Bolivia had physically punished me and although I’d felt fairly healthy – inactive but healthy – during the Pacific crossing, now Tahiti had delivered up a fever thanks to some tropical sores, sores that stretched the skin on my left leg so tight that touch shot sharp tingles right down to my foot and up to my thigh. My immune system was shot. (I think if you’d told me then that I’d still have another two loads of antibiotics coming up once I was back in Australia, I would have cried. Seven lots of antibiotics within six months? Sorry body. Some people deal better with South America.)

I booked the cheapest flight back to Australia that I could find. But where to? Melbourne had been my original choice destination, a cultural city with opportunities for work and an agreeable cost of living, but Sydney was starting to appeal to me with its sailing scene. So why was I descending into a peachy, sunset Brisbane in mid-June?

I thought back to my French friend and hoped that his misfortunes hadn’t overly soured his impressions of paradise or deterred him from the wonders of travel. Life without travel, without adventure? Unimaginable.

I got off the plane, cursed the fact I’d worn flip-flops and a vest top as I shivered into an Aussie winter, and paused for a moment before I stepped through the Arrivals doors. My heart beating faster and a smile twitching on my lips, I pushed my airport trolley into a politely crowded Arrivals lounge. Still far from my UK home, Australia would be home for now.

Stage 4 starts. An empty page. Some good ideas, hopes and needs, but no plans or expectations. But definitely adventures. Always.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, ecuador, moorea, new zealand, oceania, pacific, peru, solo travel, south america, tahiti, travel

Budgeting Tahiti

Be prepared: paradise costs a small fortune. Luckily, I was somewhat prepared for the pain. Over ten years ago some friends of mine were on a round the world ticket when they flew into Tahiti to surf, realised the cost of accommodation and living, and nearly hotfooted it straight out of the place. Beach sleeps led to police warnings but kind local bailouts meant that they ended up staying a while: surfing, fishing, catching wild pigs; all the idylls of island life.

But for most of us, accessing this reality of island life is a little more tough, and a more modern climate means accepting that everything here is a little on the pricy side.

Frustratingly, many of the trails and activities around the island have also been made into paid experiences that require a guide or a group excursion, and even a couple of the free ones require permits (see the tourist information centre for lots of information on island hikes and other activities).

In short, people have moved into Tahiti and the surrounding Society Islands and atolls and have commercialised the experience of paradise (in some places to a point that it pretty much stops being paradise, to me in any case). You can’t blame them for capitalising in on an exotic experience; it is after all, what our current world tells us to do.

Walk down the main streets of Papeete and you’ll pass by many designer shops and jewellers. Who comes here to go shopping? All the people moored up in fancy yachts, maybe, or the people who’ve jetted in on business class, or honeymooners on a romantic escape. Or regular, middle class folk who have scrimped and saved for a once in a lifetime taste of paradise. (Whether it’s actually paradise or not is a different matter). Or me and my crew. Hmmm… less likely.

I was lucky to be able to stay on board the boat for a few days because when I checked with the tourism agency about budget accommodation options, they came back to me with a guest house costing 7,200 CFP. That’s £49.07, or US$78.87. Not really budget, in my opinion, but maybe budget for the people who are more likely to frequent the Society Islands. I did some online searches, having paid a minimum of 3euros per hour for internet (no free WiFi available at all, and charged in Euros because of links with France), and I did eventually find a few backpacker friendly paces.

One little food fact that helped to keep costs down (alongside The Trucks experience) was the discovery that there is a policy on keeping the price of baguettes below 85 CFP (£0.58 / US$0.93)  so that every member of the society there has the opportunity to buy bread. Stock up on the carbs, then, and free, fallen coconuts. Maybe not the healthiest, but it’s a diet that will keep you alive. For a little while, in any case. Or go catch a fish (just be careful with those coral fish).

Here’s an idea of some costs:

Cour   de Franc Pacifique British Pound US Dollar
Cheapest hostel bed 2,000 CFP pppn £13.63 $21.90
Budget hotel bed 8,000p CFP ppn £54.52 $87.62
Taxi 1,000 CFP per km £6.82 $10.95
Sandwich 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Cheap roadside meal 1,200 CFP £8.18 $13.14
Water (1.5 litres) 104 CFP £0.71 $1.14
Coca-cola can 200 CFP £1.36 $2.19
Beer (50Cl) from supermarket 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Icecream in a cone 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Loaf of bread 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Chocolate bar 350 CFP £2.39 $3.83

Realistically, though, Tahiti and the surrounding French Polynesian islands are not the smartest place to visit if you’re travelling tight, and budget backpackers may well want to avoid the place.

Money matters momentarily put aside, solo travellers – and especially single travellers – may also want to avoid this honeymoon area. Even if you can afford it, having constant reminders of stereotyped romance mixed in with pitying looks will ultimately grate on even the most established solo adventurer and happy singleton.

Or you can just enjoy it for what it is, accept that everything is expensive and that you’ll blow your budget, and indulge in being surrounded by snippets of paradise and luxury and love.

It’s really pretty damn special.

But it’s time for me to leave. I’m all spent.

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Filed under activity & sport, beaches, costs/money, food & drink, hikes, moorea, pacific, places to stay, solo travel, tahiti

A Polynesian education: hanging out with Heirami

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.

My room. My shack (mostly). My temporary home.

My room. My shack (mostly). My temporary home.

...and the other direction

Down by the waterside

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.

Heirami and his beach

Heirami and his beach

Crack the coconut... here you are... now get in a tourist pose... ready?

Crack the coconut… here you are… now get in a tourist pose… ready?

Book, sunglasses, blanket... and coconut. What else is needed?

Book, sunglasses, blanket… and food. What else is needed? Basic needs met.

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.

Showing me his tattoos up close (silhouetting doesn't help!)

Showing me his tattoos up close (silhouetting doesn’t help!)

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.

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Filed under activity & sport, beaches, culture, dancing, nature, pacific, tahiti

When in doubt, check Papeete out (again)

Papeete from a nicer angle (*not my pic*)

Papeete from a nicer angle (*not my pic*)

After weeks at sea living in a bubble of near isolation, away from crowds and concrete and all things developed, my first impressions of Papeete – the capital city of Tahiti – weren’t positive. In fact, I’d made some harsh judgements and whilst those observations were true, they were undoubtedly subjective and they definitely weren’t the whole truth.

Further exploration of Papeete helped me to warm to the small city. How can you look negatively on a place that seems to thrive on activity, from full boats of early evening rowers to friends speed walking the waterside pathways; a town where women really do wear colourful dresses and flowers in their hair, and where markets provide a visual feast of trinkets and food accompanied by the smell of fresh pineapples?

Markettime

Market time

Favourite moments included my extended trip to the famous Mana’o Tattoo Studio where tattooist Matt talked me out of getting freshly inked (‘What you want is too small’, he said, ‘I think you can find someone who will tattoo you but it won’t look good that small’) and made me laugh with his finger moustache tat. His honesty and chat were a winner, and the various artists’ portfolios of beautiful tribal designs made me all the more keen to book an appointment. Maybe I could get a stingray, instead of what I’d initially planned? Or a turtle? Where on my body would I get the tattoo? How big?

Should I go for something similar?

Should I go for something similar? (photo from www.manaotattoo.com)

I didn’t, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the place. (Or to go back myself, should I ever happen to be sailing by Tahiti again!)

But the highlight of Papeete? Food related. Always a winner.

After the dinnertime rush at 'the trucks'

After the dinnertime rush at ‘the trucks’

Cooking up a street food feast

Cooking up a street food feast

Known as ‘the trucks’, this one-stop food haven is an easy walk from the centre. With all sorts of foods served out of the back of vans and a selection of traders that changes daily, this waterside place is the place to eat great street food at prices that are competitive and absolutely worth it.

Both the island road trip and further delving into the sights and sounds of Papeete itself absolutely helped me to understand its appeal. Maybe it took a bit longer to see the positives because I was having to readjust to civilisation again?

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Filed under cities, culture, food & drink, pacific, tahiti

Tahitian textures

Whilst road tripping Tahiti I decided to put together a photo essay focusing on the varied and stunning textures of the island. Here’s a selection for you to enjoy on Boxing Day!

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Filed under nature, pacific, tahiti

Not getting barrelled at Teahupo’o

Teahupo’o. Having shared a big chunk of my life with someone who breathed, dreamed and lived surfing, I was somewhat educated on the waves of the world. And Teahupoo? I could fairly easily recognise the wave in a picture, that crazy, powerful reef break that has surfers around the world dreaming of making a trip to French Polynesia.

I’m a rubbish surfer. It used to wind up my ex. How can you surf for six years and barely progress? He wanted to be able to ride a two foot wave with me; actually, just riding a wave together – any wave – would probably have sufficed.

If I actually made it out the back, I stalled myself out of waves, freaking that they were too big for me. Often I was happiest on the smaller, reformed waves closer to the shore, or riding the white water when I got bored of waiting for a ‘proper’ set to push through (although when I started to finally take the little drops and get on the faces of waves, the white water lost a bit of its appeal).

Realistically, one to two foot on a sunny day in the UK suited me perfectly. I don’t like rips, I’m a bit over mid-winter surfs, and the necessary evils of stiff 5/4mm wetsuits and a full booty-glove-hood get-up makes me tired just thinking about it. I have, I suppose, given in to the fact that I am never going to be one of those girls that rip, and that maybe I am indeed a fair-weather surfer (yet, actually, if the waves are right on a British December day then I’ll definitely get in the water for a splash around, just don’t give me a biting wind and a troubled sky).

Not much happening wavewise back in Devon in the winter of 2007... but its sunny and I'm smiling. Enough.

Not much happening wavewise back in Devon in the winter of 2007… but it’s sunny and I’m smiling.

There was no way, then, that my trip to Tahiti would include me undertaking the giant paddle out to the Teahupo’o showpiece and scuffling for a place in the line-up.

But I wanted to see the magic first hand. I felt that this wave was part of my history, a wave that had been part of conversations and memories and dreams. So I wanted to see the wave and its birthplace, I wanted to experience the magic of bobbing about in a little boat close to the crashing power, and I wanted to watch surfers get barrelled, get air and then bail off the back before the wave closed out and slammed them onto the jagged reef.

Watching the action up close (*not my picture).

From photos and calendars and videos, I knew what it should look like. So why the disenchantment?

Together with my Pacific crossing crew mates, I arrived into the village of Teahupo’o and to a little beach at a river mouth. The only people around were a few kids riding the beach break, twisting and turning on boogie boards, a couple more on stand-ups. The café was closed, the houses empty, the narrow, stony beach deserted.

By the river mouth at Teahupo'o, Tahiti

By the river mouth at Teahupo’o, Tahiti

A couple of boats were moored up by a house but captains were absent and a ride out to the mighty wave began to seem unlikely. I looked out to sea, out past the flatter near-water to a section of crashing waves that occasionally delivered a peel and spit but more typically smashed down on to the reef without any form. Closing out. Surely no one would be out there today trying to surf? I squinted but it was no good. I saw no one.

Shall we just borrow it?

Shall we just borrow it?

Kinda doing... not much

Kinda doing… not much

After a wander through the ghost village and along a rocky, coral beach, we weren’t any closer to the wave or to scoring a boat ride. I wondered if some of these houses were even occupied by locals and just how different this sleepy place was when the annual Billabong Pro surf comp came to town.

A hint of what Teahupo'o has become?

A hint of what Teahupo’o has become?

I gave up on getting out there to see it up close, and retreated back to the hire car. The only friends we made were some stray dogs. Oh, and one of the teens who gave us a wave as we left.

No barrels for me, or anyone else it would seem. Maybe I should have done some research before I left? Sometimes things just work out. This time it didn’t. Back to the perfect waves of picture books, then.

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Day trippin’ Tahiti

Having picked up some maps at the tourist information by the docks, planned a few desired stop-offs and hired a car for the day, we were ready to drive the coast road that wraps around Tahiti Nui and smaller Tahiti to the south-east. The constructed concrete and development of Papeete slowly faded into the background as we sped south down the smooth roads of the west side of the island into a scene framed by thick, dark green trees and mountains that raised up from the roadside.

Enter the lushness

Enter the lushness

Our first stop was at Grotte de Maraa caves barely 30km south of Papeete, a public garden bursting with every tone of lush green imaginable, despite being but a machete strike away from the main road. The detail of fanned leaves, the variation in plant patterns and the odd splash of water and other colour created a world in which I wanted nothing more than to walk alone and once again get lost in the thicket of nature whilst Joel and Matt headed up into the jungle, following an overgrown path.

Plants and water and happiness

Plants and water and happiness

...and more...

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beautiful, right?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yep.

The caves themselves gave cover to pools of water on which lilies clustered, some white petals on display. To the side of the main cave was a sign hidden behind foliage that stated No lifeguard on duty, surely a joke of sorts. Matt went for a paddle and the water barely reached his knees (although apparently further into the belly of the cave it drops away).

Really?

Lost girl? Nah, not really.

Lost girl? Nah, not really.

Back behind the wheel and we drove on down to Teahupo’o on Tahiti Iti, Tahit Nui’s little sister joined to the main bulk of the island by a slim stretch of land over which passed two roads. A few young teens body boarded on little waves on the edge of the village whilst the infamous Teahupo’o break smashed about a couple of kilometres out to sea. We walked by empty houses and quiet air, accompanied by a stray dog.

Arriving to the village of Teahupo'o

Arriving to the village of Teahupo’o

Hanging out on the wire looking out towards the famous break

Hanging out on the wire looking out towards the famous break

Shall we just borrow it?

Shall we just borrow it?

On the way back up north we decided to head to the Taravao Plateau, stopping first at a little spot off the beaten track by a river where we dunked in cool waters and got nibbled by creatures in a murky river bed. At least I did. Joel and Matt, my crew mates from the Pacific crossing, swam against the river flow, then let themselves get carried for a little while. I guess it had been a long time at sea without exercise.

Taking a river rest

Taking a river rest

Capturing the creature who had a good nibble on my toes

Capturing the creature who had a good nibble on my toes

The boys think about stretching their legs again

The boys think about stretching their legs again

The viewpoint of Taravao Plateau itself took us out of the jungly lowlands, high enough to get a wide look over both parts of the island. A little hut shaded us and the gentle yet constant trickle of tourists who pulled in for a quick glance. Beer tops, a few empty bottles and a smattering of graffiti hinted at a place that went beyond that of a lookout. This place saw it all. Or some variation, at least.

Views one way... down to Tahiti Nui

Views one way… down to Tahiti Nui

Views from the same spot

Views from the same spot

Our last stop-off was driven by the need to get to the water’s edge once again. Whilst the west coast beaches seemed unreachable and – where visible – chunked up with rocky entries, the east coast offered up a good dose of sandy beaches. Finding an unmarked place to pull in, the boys were quick to the water whilst I lay down, full stretch, and the warmth of the sand against the length of my body made me sleepy.

Getting drowsy

Getting drowsy

I dozed through all the fun – the body surfing, the local kids playing up to the Go-Pro camera, the refreshing splashing around – and roused only for the homeward stretch, a half hour drive with a red dusk sky backdrop

Nearly there

Nearly there

And we were back. In Papeete, at the pontoon, within the rock of the boat. Home.

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Are we really in paradise? Tahiti falls short of expectations

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.

First views of Papeete

First views of Papeete

Arriving into Papeete

Arriving into Papeete

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.

Sitting in the dock of the bay watching the....

Sitting in the dock of the bay watching the….

Homes and houses

Homes and houses

Road, boats and concrete

Road, boats and concrete

Traffic... Ah yeah, I remember

Traffic… Ah yeah, I remember

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.

Shop windows, cafes and browsers

Shop windows, cafes and browsers

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.

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Marooned: what the hell do I do now?!

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Time to say goodbye?

It was never a guaranteed that I’d stay on board all the way to Australia, and with space for only one of us, either Matt or me had to make a move to a different boat or a different whatever. The rules of the world dictate, first on last off. I had no problems with that.

It was only as we got closer to Tahiti that we finally broached the subject and thrashed out the reality of the situation. As it turned out, Matt wanted to stay on board, so I was off. It gave me a few days thinking time. As far as I was concerned, I had three, no four, options:

1)      Find another boat to crew for. The positives are that I might even find paid work, the negatives that most boats would want to do some exploring of the islands. Bora Bora? I heard it’s amazing, so why a negative? I wanted to get back to Oz sooner than August. I needed to go earn some money, catch up with friends and family.

2)      Find a stout Tahitian man and get stuck into island life. A beautiful place, who wouldn’t want to settle in tropical paradise? Nah, my ideals say that something like this, should it happen, would be spontaneous and emotionally driven, and not a calculated decision. And honestly, my heart was a little too distracted to really consider this option.

3)      Find a cheap flight to Oz. After nearly a year of being transient, I was ready to put down roots for at least a few months. My bank account suggested that it was a necessity to get some paid work quickly, particularly if I hoped to finally return to my family in the UK for Christmas.

4)      See what turns up. This approach has worked well for me over the last year. I’ve freed myself of the need to plan and be overly prepared. It’s liberating. Only occasionally has it fallen flat, like when I turned up to New Zealand not having booked a hostel after taking three flights. Of course, everywhere was fully booked because the Foo Fighters were playing that night. But generally, adventures and interesting experiences have presented themselves when I’ve just been open to seeing what turns up.

So here in Tahiti, I started to pack up my bags and prepare for pastures new.

What would life have in store for me?

The logical thing as a free-spirited, solo traveller would be to continue the sailing adventure through French Polynesia. But something else was pulling me in a different direction, no, not just the one thing, some things.

As I sat in the sunshine sipping a fresh fruit juice, gazing out at a fleet of yachts, Pride told me to find another boat, to do the full Pacific crossing. What’s another two months? he asked, you’ve come so far, why give up now? Because, I replied, I’m actually quite ready to stop for a while. Tropical islands are all well and beautiful but I want to be with friends again, be part of a little community that doesn’t dissipate in a few days, get somewhere where I can talk to doctors in English and get these tropical sores treated.

I recalled a friend’s wise words about there always being more opportunities to do things in the future. If I want to sail around French Polynesia, if it’s really, really important to me, I’ll find a way to come back. I wouldn’t be giving up, I decided. None of my adventures had had definite start and end points so why force this one? No Pride, you don’t present a strong enough argument.

Adventure perked up. You like Tahiti, right? Imagine more of this, more remote, more beautiful, more Bora Bora. People would sell their souls to get to Bora Bora. And then there are the Cook Islands and Tonga and maybe Fiji. You could spend months sailing, not spending much money, maybe even earning some, months enjoying waters perfect for snorkelling and diving and splashing about. You would be in paradise, away from the responsibilities of real life, putting off your return to rent and taxes and all things boring.

In many respects, it sounded appealing. Adventure talked my language, romanticised escapism, abhorred conventionality. But how realistic was Adventure? Did she not realise the power that denial and stresses played on the mind? No, life in its conventional sense of salaries and so forth needed to be addressed.

Responsibility smiled. Finally! he said, you’re starting to be a bit more level headed. Level-headed? I cringed. Maybe you don’t want to return to teaching, but drifting along will soon become tired. Know that you have lots of options. If you really want to be a little less responsible, if you really want to be a writer, he paused and raised an eyebrow, then you’ll still need to find some other work to cover your living costs. You may actually feel quite good earning money again, – you’ll be able to treat people and be independent and, if you must, save for further travels.

I thought about it. Responsibility was right. My return to Australia could just be a stop-gap. If it happened to extend into something more long-term then fine, but if I approached it as just another step in my adventure it would panic me less, and be less of a reason to run for the hills. Or the sea, in this case.

Finally, when I was ready, Love added her two pence worth and told me what I already knew. You have a friend in Australia who is soon moving on to pastures new, you have a cousin arriving into the country before too long and you have someone there who is so looking forward to your return.

Pride tried to butt in but Love was having none of it. She continued. Your family would be so, so happy to see you at Christmas, and I know how much you want to catch up with friends back in the UK. So lightly listen to Responsibility – he makes a few good points – and realise that the journey is never over. To continue your adventure in a meaningful way, you know what you need to do. And the stout Tahitian man that you mentioned? He’s not for you, dear. Leave him be.

Three hours later I had a flight booked to land in Brisbane, Australia. But first, another two weeks in paradise.

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Land ho! Tahiti tempts us back to society

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Land or something else?

It’s the morning of 5thJune 2012. Dawn light teases the horizon, hinting at the possibility of land mass. It could be clouds, though. I squint. I relax my eyes. It’s the same.

Land ho!

I take a short, quick breath and exhale slowly. Over 3,000nm. We’ve done it. We have all but arrived.

Less than a day and half ago I was coming off of my night watch when the lights of Fakarava came into view, the first hint of civilisation. Early ideas had been to drop anchor in the lagoon and explore and snorkel and splash about for a few hours. It might have been a good, small-scale reintroduction to other people, to social niceties and some geographical normality, albeit in the form of a coral atoll. But a midnight stop-off would be wasting time, so on we sailed, Tahiti bound.

Accompanied by a speeding beat in my chest, we pushed through a burst of grey downpours into our twenty second day at sea, into a day of still oceans, glorious sunshine and puffy cumulus clouds above a horizon that felt even farther away than usual. I checked the catamaran’s computers regularly. We were well inside French Polynesia and the Galapagos islands felt like a lifetime ago.

And now, here, pushing on into Day 23 of our voyage, we’re sailing towards Tahiti. There’s a ship off our starboard quarter – a trading vessel – and I sense that the hustle and bustle of real life and people and interaction can only be a few hours away. I’ve got mixed feelings and all sorts of chemical reactions surging through my body. I feel a little sick, but I’m smiling.

Up ahead I see the peaks of Mt. Orohena and Mt. Aorai start to push through a morning cloud blanket, high, spiky crests with more solidity than I’ve seen for some time. They are the identifiable markers of Tahiti Nui, markers that have guided in many a sailor towards the port of Papeete.

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Definitely land…

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We did it! Happiness at the bow of the boat

The sun starts to touch the volcanic ridges and peaks and melts the cloud cover to reveal steep, emerald rock faces. We’re seeing it from the same angle that Captain Cook would have back in 1769, sailing on north-west past Venus Point towards the inhabited parts of this green island full of sharp ridges and dramatic peaks. Coincidentally, we arrive the day before the 2012 Transit of Venus, and the magic of turning up to this tropical paradise of the Society Islands after such a lengthy voyage is accentuated.

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Me and the boys celebrate a safe passage

And then reality hits. We make contact with the port captain and secure a berth in the midst of town. A boy trails our boat, riding the wake in his kayak. We motor in towards exaggerated, colourful signs on the sides of blocky buildings and into a channel lined by bright green, mown lawns and palms planted at equal distances.

We pull up beside a super vessel – a boat bigger than many a house and hungrier than most trucks. Three uniformed, small framed guys with similarly styled crew cuts help to dismount some jet skis from off the side of the big boat.

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Approaching Papeete on the northern side of Tahiti

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Our first contact in weeks

It’s mid-morning of June 5th 2012 when I jump off the catamaran, switching carbon fibre and bright, white plastic for hard, hard concrete. I could kiss the ground, but I don’t. Instead, I run, arms out.

And then I turn around and run back to our boat.

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