July 3, 2011

Touring Tahiti

 Our tour guide Ruth shops with kings. She told us this as we stood outside the tomb of Pomare. The Pomares are the royal family of Tahiti and are commonly credited with the dubious distinction of being the guys who gave Tahiti and her islands to the French. Not surprisingly the Tahitians aren’t completely enamoured with their royal family—especially because, according to Polynesian history and culture, the Pomare family were never really royalty. They were just mid-level chiefs of an unimportant village where it happened all the navigators pulled in: Wallis, Cook, Bougainville, Captain Bligh and the Bounty and us…
Point Venus lighthouse and Cook's monument
The navigators wanted to talk to a king, so Pomare I signed up for the job and history took over and by the time Pomare V had drank himself to death the French owned the place. So now Pomare X does his own shopping at the local magasin.
the lovely Ruth

We’re touring Tahiti with our tourism provided car and guide. As far as guides go Ruth has to be one of the most entertaining I’ve had. Not for her encyclopaedic knowledge (although she has that) or her keen political observations (she has those too) but because as the mother of fourteen kids with far too much on her plate she can’t hold a thought for more than two minutes without getting distracted. It took the entire 6 hour tour for her to finish a story about why there are very expensive ($20 for 8) locally grown oranges on the island (Captain Cook brought them and had them planted high in the hills on his second voyage).
the famous black sand and just one of the dozens of surf spots

So rather than a tour that included canned observations and set facts we travelled around the island enjoying a boisterous conversation. The sites—the waterfalls, beaches, lush foliage and flowers were all rather secondary to Ruth’s comments about life in Tahiti.

The botanical gardens, for example, brought a story about how Polynesian families don’t punish their kids in a typical way. Instead they try to balance bad behaviour with positive actions and a common punishment is for a child to have to buy and plant a tree. Truly bad behaviour earns the kid a banana tree—which, because they require a very deep hole, are hard to plant. So a house with a lot of bananas (like Ruth’s) is a sign of a few parenting challenges.

Tahiti is beautiful—the black sand beaches are pristine and nearly empty, the parks are well-maintained and lush. My favourite stops included Maraa the fern grottos that once inspired Gauguin, and the Faarumai waterfall with an ancient Marae at its base.
Maraa Grotto

But each stop: where we sped in and learned about how flora & fauna intersected with culture (those cool, blurry looking trees that look like pine trees are ironwood and were used to make voyaging canoes and no one can cut down a banyan tree without a permit and an archaeologist present because early Polynesians ‘buried’ their dead in the tangled trunks); or where we simply gazed in awe at a rugged beach or towering waterfall made me wish we could spend hours rather than minutes exploring.

By the end of our day I wanted nothing more but to do it all again, more slowly and more in depth. Or perhaps even more than heading to another waterfall I wanted to go shopping with Ruth and maybe meet the king.
Like the Marquesas, Tahiti has loads of archaeological sites

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