My tattoo, which I got when we arrived in the Marquesas, tells a story. It says that I travelled a long distance by boat with Evan and Maia, that I came with peace and love, and that I came to share bananas.
I questioned this last bit when the tattoo artist imprinted it permanently on my ankle. I thought perhaps I misunderstood. I thought of all the ways that it could be misconstrued. And then it became an anecdote; a story to go along the ones about being befriended by a Marquesan named Roo who took us on a hike to our first Marae and gave us bananas, and of diving with sharks, and meeting ukulele makers, and becoming fast friends with fabulous people.
Sometimes there’s symmetry to travel; where the story may seem to meander but in the end the ending mirrors the beginning: I came to French Polynesia to share bananas is where my story started—and today I discovered this is also where it is ending up.
|the Ceilydhs and Don Quixotes|
We set out this morning with the DQ family on a trip up the river at the head of Baia Faaroa on Raiatea. We motored along—enjoying pretty plants, and attractive birds, majestic vistas, and serene scenes. And I wondered why the dude in the kayak would chose to follow so close to the dinghies that he ended up sucking up our exhaust fumes.
When we hit the rapids we learned the dude’s name was James and this was his valley and if we liked, he’d tour us through a plantation on the way back—no cost. And so we went (although we did make black jokes about being cooked and eaten because well, they did that here…).
James is an awesome tour guide—we learned what we could eat (good for you) and shouldn’t eat (not good for you). We learned the names of plants (especially the poisonous ones). We picked sour saps, passion fruit and papaya, green beans and taro. We drank coconut milk and collected pamplemous and all the way James told us stories that we may, or may not, have entirely understood (not sure if the dogs were an eat, or no eat, for example…).
Eventually we headed home. But then—not far from the mouth of the river he stopped us (as the DQ’s blithely headed on), “to get your bananas.” He cut us a huge stock. Enough for an army of banana eaters. And then he asked if we’d like to go to the Marae. The marae was not for today (after a visit to the firestation where we think James was trying to borrow a truck he suggested a different outing)—so we went for an afternoon hike and for a visit to a vanilla plantation.
There is still some of that old sailor’s romance and mystic to French Polynesia. There’s an underlying adherence to old customs that are familiar to anyone who has ever dreamed of sailing off to a South Sea’s island. And this means there are people like James—who quietly follow you up a river so they can simply be hospitable. And they remind us that we sailed a very long way so we could share bananas.