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Sun 26th March. Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia.
On the flight out of Santiago, I move to allow an couple to sit together, and end up sitting next to a Prussian artist, resident in South America for decades. He is as mad as a coot, but proves very entertaining, handing out snuff and doing blow-pipe impressions as he steadily gets drunker. Until the point where he drops into the conversation that he is going to Tahiti to collect the body of his mother, who he belives was murdered. At this point he starts getting a bit boggly eyed, and I'm slightly relieved when, after a brief stop at Easter Island, a young Hawiian couple get on to claim their seats and I can move back to my own. In the distance, as I slip gratefully off to sleep, I can hear the artist slipping over the fine line between 'entertaining eccentric' to 'drunken air rage candidate'...
Land at Fa'aa airport at midnight, never the best time to arrive in a new place. There is no public transport running, but I manage to share an extortionately expensive taxi into town with the Hawiians, slowly recovering from their ordeal.
A rude, miserable old Chinese man in a seedy hotel on the sea front tells me flatly that the cheap hotels in my guidebook have both been demolished for renovation, and my only option is to pay sixty pounds for a room with him. Now, obviously there is no way I'm paying that much (I'm a penniless backpacker! I'll sleep on the beach, thanks!) and besides, a notice on the wall behind him seems to be offering rooms in multiples of 15 minutes. Don't know about you, but this makes me a little suspicious of the nature of his establishment...
So, off I go, walking the streets with all my bags in the middle of the night. Eventually, despite the local reluctance to put up anything so uncool as street signs, I work out where I am, and from there it is a short walk to the cheapest of the cheap hotels, which, it goes without saying, has not been demolished. (Though with hindsight, perhaps it should be.)
A bunk bed (actually a skinny piece of rank foam on some springs) in a crowded, airless dormitory still costs more than ten quid - but this is as cheap as it gets around here. A two inch cockroach scuttles across the floor in friendly greeting, and the tropical night chirps and throbs humidly away outside.
Mon 27th March. Papeete, Tahiti.
First impressions being quite correct, Papeete is catastrophically expensive. This, coupled with an unwillingness to understand anything less than perfect French, a attitude laid-back bordering on indolence when you are waiting for them, and an irritably impatient when waiting for you, almost drives me to tired tears of frustration after spending hours trying to find someone to take me diving. It's not even particularly scenic - a bit like Calais with palm trees.
In the end I do manage to find a quiet (though still ambivalently friendly) pension on the beach out of town, and book a couple of days shore-based diving. The 'Plongee' is nice (particularly diving bare skin in the bathtub-warm water) but not inspiring - there is little soft coral as a result of recent hurricanes. Other dive sites in Polynesia are reputed to be much better.
Tues 28th March. Tahiti, Polynesia.
This morning, get my first (and only) Polynesian pick-up. Someone that walks and talks like a woman, but has distinct stubble, hairy arms, and none of the bumps you might resonably expect propositions me on the beach - along the lines of 'how about a ride in my car, eh?'. I beat a polite retreat, pleading a prior engagement going diving. I get a phone number pressed into my hand, but whatever he/she was, I ain't returning their calls.
On the morning's lagoon dive, round a sunken light aircraft and a couple of small boats covered in waving pink anemones, I find a little octopus lurking in a crevice, and am having fun trying to use his own curiosity to lure him out when the dive guide comes over, shoves a hand into the hole and then makes a grab for the poor terrified creature as it flees leaving a cloud of ink! 8-X&%!$#*! I glare at him, but he fails to look ashamed!
Towards the end of the afternoon's dive, I feel a 'thunk' on my fin - it's nesting season, and a broody Picasso Triggerfish has decided I am in her territory. She is only about four inches long, but it's still time for a dignified withdrawl before she starts trying to bite pieces out of me.
Wed 29th March. Tahiti, Polynesia.
Looking to escape Tahiti, between dives I go into the travel shop to enquire about getting a flight to Rangiroa, allegedly one of the world's best places for diving with big marine life. In a total strike of 'right place right time' luck, a man is in there trying to sell the ticket he has won, unwanted, in the lottery. He settles for half price, and the ticket is mine.
Go for a dusk snorkel in the lagoon. Swimming round a coral head a long way from shore, I come face to face with a small reef shark coming the other way. Now, this is not an impressive specimen, really a bit of a pathetic shark, and I know you are at greater danger from lightning than sharks while in the water, they really don't like the taste of our stringy, low fat flesh and was just coming to find out what was making all the splashing, blah blah blah. But there is still nothing like a shark to make you feel naked in the water all of a sudden, and I get a bit of a shock.
Not as much of a shock as he got, judging by his reaction - he does the shark equivalent of a double-take: dead stop with frantic fin braking, a brief frozen moment, then with a flick of his tail he disappears at panic speed. Ha! Too hard for THAT shark, eh? Come and 'ave a go if ya think ya 'ard enough, etc. etc.
Thurs 30th March. Moorea, Polynesia.
A night on Moorea, a short ferry ride from Papeete. Moorea has the 'tropical paradise' beauty that Tahiti lacks, palm trees leaning over golden sands lapped by a turquoise lagoon, but to be honest it is even more depressing. There is no adventure here to keep the solo traveller stimulated, everything is fenced and packaged with a price tag to match. Yup, it is all very idyllic, but it is the kind of idyll that is most enjoyable shared. Sitting watching hibiscus flowers washing up on the beach just makes you want a special someone to fill a space under one arm.
Fri 31st March. Tahiti to Rangiroa
By this stage I hated Tahiti. I hated its authentic French arrogance, the way it seemed to have transplanted a load of western social problems and body fascism into the middle of the Pacific, I hated it's frankly insulting pricing, and I very sincerely wished I'd never come.
Rangiroa is going to have to be spectacular to make this stopover worthwhile...
On to Dive Report: Rangiroa
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