Tuamotus. Imagine a flat plain a few hundred miles wide and long, dotted
with giant individual mountains. Probably volcanoes, not sure, each over
2000 metres high. So if you've seen a volcano like Pico in the Azores -
that's only 900m. Wow! The tops are level with the sea, and we're anchored
right at the edge of one underwater mountain, in 20m water and the anchor is
on quite steep slope. This is Takaroa, just a thin circle of flat land.
Ashore it's flat, white sandy shale with palms trees. maybe the rim of a
volcano, shells and sand over the years. Blue sea, blue sky and clouds.
And that's about it. But there is a small settlement. Anna not well so we
wait a while. For the first time in three months - my phone works! I text
people and get a few calls back - fabulous, like discovering telephones
I get a call on VHF - in French. No problem. I ask if I need to check
in? - nope, no need says the guy, they got all the info from Marquesas on
computer, just verifying. Out. I get the dinghy down and
I tie the dink to the wall, no other boats around. As I do so a car pulls
up, one occupant jumps out and runs over to me. All in French, i ask if he
is a customs guy - no - he's a teacher. Oh right. Well hi, handshakes,
names, he's Jean-Jacques. Hi. He asks where i have come from - he's ever
so excited to see a boat. I ask if the anchorage is ok. He says yes, it's
ok at the moment but I can anchor inside - altho Charlei's Charts sez I need
permission. Not so. French buoyage - not US. Gottit. I then ask - is
there a restaurant, a hotel? Not really, says Jean Jacques. its all pearl
farming. He proceeds to give directions to smaller eating places - a couple
are "Un Snack" or another place, a Pizzeria. Having explained how to get to
each of these places, he then proceeds to un-tick them - actually the
pizzeria is closed today, as is the snack bar. And the other one. Oh.
There might be another one along that way. Okay. Well, thanks. Big
smiles, handshakes again. Bit zany being "found" like that, whatever.
All the building are bungalows, shacks really. Nice shacks but still shacks.
Everything here must arrive by ship. Mind you, everything almost everywhere
has arrived by ship. I suppose i'm more aware of the isolation. I tramp
down the slightly-unmade road, nice sunny day.
Two women are busy in a house as i walk past - one me calls in a sing-song
voice - again in french - Good day sir! -can i help you? I stop and walk
over - the calling-out woman has huge grin. I'm looking a for "un snack"
for lunch. She's polynesian, not little, a big smile, very sassy, gives
directions, i sing back thank you, she's delighted to have met me, she
says, and have a lovely day.
I've been to small islands before, but never to one where people are so
pleased to meet a New Human. And today, It's me. So instead of walking
past other other people as one does everywhere else, here you're hailed and
invited to join their lives, immediately. If you remember the book, you'll
have noticed that Alice isn't allowed to mind her own business and walk
quietly along - the characters al introduce themselves, and she has to
interact. Dull book otherwise i spose. And also as in the book, everyone
here is at least a little bit zany.
I ask directions from another guy, seems to be polishing a stone. He's
surprised because he too has never seen me before. Someone in a car waves
as if to say "I'm off to now but I'll catch you soon, okay?". I
eventually find a house/shack that indicates it's a snack bar only by a
small sign in the window saying"snack". It looks shut but I pull at the
door. inside is a very large very aged woman, seated alone at a table,
messily eating a fried fish with her fingers. Come in come in. She could be
a customer but exudes authority, and she's alone. Perhaps twenty years ago
she ran the place, better days. Two table football games lie disused, a few
other plastic tables stacked, in one a dusty corner is a "shop" but the tins
could have been there for years. She waves me in, in,
sit down. She shouts towards another room and we wait for someone
presumably younger, whatever, to appear and deal with my lunch idea.
Old woman really is enormous - can't have reached that size eating fish,
can she? - although there's a plate of several unappetising fish stacked
with bread, and a catering size tin of butter. We exchange pleasantries, a
little awkwardly since I'm expecting a commercial operation and instead
I've discovered her dubious cutlery-free eating habit. Eventually someone
appears...and he's even older and larger, and slow on his feet. He pours
himself into a chair and isn't getting up anytime soon. I can tell that I'm
not going to be offered anything but an oldish over-fried fish, eventually,
but before that we're going to be talking about me, the boat, the route,
everything. it's spectacularly hot, airless - and they take this as an
opening gambit, and agree, yes, indeed it is hot today! No, I mean, it's so
hot that I can't stay here, I must go, now really. So I rather cruelly
leave them in their dark and very hot not-really-snack bar, saying goodbyes
as cheerily as I can, and move on down the road.
I've turned a few corners, walked down some small roads and soon... I'm back
outside the sassy lady's house. Hm. She hears me and comes outside, calling
me again - silly thing, you got lost? This time she has just a sarong
around her waist and no top on ...and "she" is clearly a man. A maui (is
the word? - short word beginning with m, means a man brought up from
childhood as a woman) - but still behaves sassy, utterly femaie, high
voiced. I smile and chat along, manage to drop the "madame" at the end of
most but not all of my sentences. She (oops, look, i did it again!) directs
me another way, tacitly agreeing that perhaps that the other snack bar has
run aground. I say cheery goodbyes, again, to the Red Queen.
Orangey-yellow Queen, whatever. The whole town is only 500m square, and
few 100m along a road in another direction i find a small shop.
Last time I saw a shop like this it was owned by my sister, aged six. It
has five bags of crisps for sale, each clothes-pegged to a small washing
line above the tiny counter, two sandwiches wrapped in plastic, a chocolate
cake and canned drinks in a fridge. I bravely buy a few of these items,
lots of hi and thankyou and how are you? and the boat outside? that's you,
Back at the dock I take a break from the funny farm, munch and drink in the
shade. Again, it's quiet, nobody around. Until the next two characters
appear on the scene. The mad fishermen, tweedle dum and tweedle dee. They
start talking to me at from 50yards away, as though they know me. I don't
respond quickly enough so they walk closer. Would I like to buy a fish, hm?
Red tuna! I say that sorry, no, I already have a red tuna. Oh well. How
about anothr one? No thankyou. We all laugh, and they don't seem too upset.
I make ready to leave and go back to the boat. And seeing as how there's
nothing else to do, they sit down on the concrete, nothing around them,
waiting quietly for, well, I don't know what.
I could stay longer in Takaroa, days, or months, choose and embellish a
slightly-batty character and join the cast. I'd soon be part of the
island's slightly-broken furniture. if anyone came ashore, I could find
them, and interview them pleasantly and prhaps a little crazily from my
"snack bar" - here meaning a shack/house just like any other, really - but
you can buy stuff from the fridge. But I think I'l move on, and with a nice
weather window we're gonna go to Rangiroa, 150miles away and a bit nearer
Tahiti, and probably a touch further away from Womderland.