The island of Tahiti is big and green and lush. And expensive. We saw a
small bag of cherries that cost $16. It almost doesn't matter which
flavour of dollar or pound it is at that price. So we have bingles, or
bobbles, or tiddlipoms, bimboms and tamarands. That's a unit of currency
where you take off the last two zeros of a French Polynesian Franc. One
slug comes in as a bit more than a US dollar, and a bit less than the
euro. In Chile we used to take off the last three digits and pretend it
was a UK pound. But in fact it was more like two US dollars, and a lot
more than a pound, and we regularly overspent. Now we no longer convert,
we just work in dingalings and strive to be within an order of magnitude
Example. Andy wants to buy a second-hand surf board. He found one in a
shop, at a bargain price. Check this out, Rhian, he called… only 30
bucks. So I covered the last two digits with two of my digits and sure
enough it was three hundred bucks. That's how far out prices are here.
Enough to make you scrutinise the cost of every tin and baguette.
Slightly cheaper products are available, but to find them you have to
Or just allow money to evaporate.
Prices aren't actually as ludicrous as we had been led to believe.
Supermarkets charge around the same as a Kensington Waitrose (central
London), and restaurants are up there with Manhattan haute cuisine. And
the products are good, which makes a nice change. To Andy's dismay the
one small town hardware shop that we stumbled into was better stocked
than any of the options he had been battling with in Puerto Montt for
the whole boat refit.
There are lots of good things too. For starters, we have anchored far
from the capital (Papeete), in what seems to be the island's playground.
Our location, Baie de Phaeton, is home to daily dinghy sailing lessons
for local primary schools (very cute), pirogue rowing practice for the
young men, a BMX bike course for the kids, an Aikido dojo for the
disciplined, and an ever-populated petanque field for people of all
sizes and ages, especially the older and larger. (Pirogues are outrigger
canoes, and petanque is what I would call boules.) Andy even managed to
go out in a pirogue and has since become the team mascot.
You also have to bring your own bag to the shops, or buy a sturdy
re-usable one, and there are ample opportunities for recycling. And
there is amazing cheese. CHEESE! Of different varieties and everything.
Also pain au chocolat, croissants… and freshly caught tuna on sale
every afternoon on the main street. But the thing that makes me happiest
is a return to bread and cheese. Real versions of both. The staple diet
for most of my adult life and oh! how nice it is to be home. The change
also reflected in my newly acquired baguette belly.
People watching is good to, and sometimes it's hard not to. Both the
women and men make me feel slender and elegant, and make Andy look like
he has a serious deficiency in body art. Then there are the men who are
raised as women. Not exactly transvestites, although they are, but for
me that term involves some element of self definition or choice. These
men, as boys, are brought up as girls. So it's common to see young boys
and teenagers walking down the streets in dresses and braids, holding
hands with girls. And when they're older, in many cases, the style
continues. It's amazing to realise how much of who we are and how we are
is clearly learnt – nurture over nature. The way they walk, talk, and
stand, their mannerisms and affectations, professions, and style, has
clearly been molded by growing up as a girl.
Other first impressions of Tahiti? Hot, humid,and with heavy rains in
the afternoon, a godsend for me. Good hikes, big hills, enormous wide
rivers roaring with fresh water. I could sit in them all day and never
soak up enough.
Fresh water rivers.
I have started a kind of love affair with fresh water. I love it and I
can't get enough.
Ever since the Gambiers we have been spoilt for water. We carry about
200L of water in five and ten litre jerry cans. (Our two 200L water
tanks leaked and rather than spend another month repairing them, ripping
up the floor, and overstaying our visa in Chile, we filled them with
jugs and set sail.) Our capacity is sufficient. We wash ourselves, our
clothes, and our dishes using buckets in the cockpit. First wash in
seawater, second in sweet. Except for clothes- they never get a
saltwater wash as they would never, never dry. I tried the same argument
with my hair but it didn't fly with the skipper. So I ignored him and
got a haircut in Tahiti.
Anyway, the 5L wash has become an absolute indulgence. And sometimes we
even allow ourselves a 10L wash. The Joy! Yesterday when I was decanting
water from jerry can to jug to body, Andy picked up the jerry can and
poured a full 10L over my head in one hit. When I tried to object the
water just poured into my mouth. Ten litres of sweet, fresh, clean,
spring water. And not even any soap left to wash off! Wonderfully
excessive goodness and delight.
Another new indulgence is rinsing our dishes in fresh water after the
first seawater wash. Immediately the pans are less sticky and tea no
longer tastes of salt. I don't think I'll ever go back.
We did get haircuts, but not to save water. Day two. Just after the
hardware store. I was looking for a place to wax my legs (I refuse to
shave) and Andy's been talking about cutting his hair for weeks. So we
found a place that could do both at the same time. As I watched him
receiving the full head massage treatment prior to the cut, I was
utterly happy for him- from my toes to my earlobes- and also also
entirely envious. Having hair ripped out of your legs can't compete when
it comes to the pampering experience.
That afternoon we reached a Signigicant Moment.
Do you mind if I get a haircut?
That's what I said: "do you mind if I get a haircut?" Does he mind? DOES
HE MIND? Who have I become? The girl who had multi-coloured dreadlocks
when we met and a shaved head a few years later is now asking permission
to cut shoulder length hair to slightly less than shoulder length hair.
Oh my god.
The Taming of the Shrew:
I am learning to keep my things tidy. I am attempting to cook. My
cleaning skills are improving significantly. I have learnt to wake up
when I want to be asleep. I have started wearing dresses. I have grown
my hair. I have started collecting recipes and taught myself to bake
cakes. I have learnt to bake bread. I wash myself with two litres of
water. I brought crocheting magazines with me on this trip, and sticks
and wool, and made Andy some socks. Which I'm proud of. I smell of
lavender when I want to dress up. I have no job and my career is
suspended. I accept that my husband is boss when we are sailing. I am
not unhappy. In fact, life is good.
I asked for permission to cut my hair.
The line stops here. "SHAVE IT, SHAVE IT" I shouted at the hairdresser,
pierce me all over and give me a chainsaw.
I confess. It was a Significant Moment. Even Andy was lost for words.
Then we had a laugh and I cut my hair. Such a relief, I think I shed two
degrees just from losing the thermal insulation.
I am still me. Absolutely. It's like discovering who I am after
stripping away all the things I relied on to define me: working in
Antarctica, working in Climate Change Outreach, being a terrible cook,
sleeping for Britain, being messy and scatty, being ambitious and
driven, being sociable and busy, always having people around. Always
having a goal.
It's there, but it's gone. It's not my today anymore.
Here am I. Here are we.
Who knows what happens next.
We have actually been thinking about what happens next. We even came to
Tahiti to explore some opportunities in the next-happens kind of line.
Unfortunately they fell through. Not long after, in an attempt to pull
myself out of the natural deflation that followed, I started
brainstorming ideas for other things we could do, people I could
approach for work, jobs Andy might be able to pick up in New Zealand or
Australia, ways we could work both compatibly…. and all of a sudden I
was back in our old world, the place that's familiar and easy and not at
I've got an idea, says Andy, how about this. How about we live on a
small and lovely boat and we go sailing. And we go to French Polynesia
and explore atolls and go spearfishing and snorkeling and drink fresh
coconut milk, and eat tuna every day. And we have fun, and are happy.
And one day, when we get to New Zealand, we have a cup of tea and think
then about What Next.
What we're doing is amazing, Rhian. He says. And he's right of course.
He's also expert at living in the now. When we need to do laundry, he
soaks the clothes in a bucket of soapy water and then throws them in the
dinghy to rinse and dry on shore. All that time, I'm inside worrying
about the logistics of how we're going to get the clothes back, dry, in
how many bags, and without rats (this time we picked up ants instead).
Or who we might need to ask permission from in order to hang them up
between two trees on common land. He just goes there and deals with
these issued as they arise. (Rhian -it's not as if we're testing nuclear
weapons here, he says, hang on and I'll go and get a permit from the
council to hang out our washing.)
We've met some wonderful people here, Jon and Jennifer, and a couple of
days later I was on their boat looking at maps. Maps of the Pacific, the
world, these islands, other oceans, continents, sailing routes and
sailing dreams. It was exciting, really exciting. I left thinking how
amazing it would be to do that kind of thing, to explore those places by
boat. And how cool it was that they were doing it.
They also shared their blog with us, in which we feature in two. One
href="http://sv-grace.blogspot.com/2010/06/excursions.html//"> a great
couple of days </a> that we spent exploring together, and the other is a
more philosophical take </a> on our collective adventures.
Looking at the maps and reading about our journeys, I started opening my
eyes again. Ridiculous how easy it is to live in tomorrow, even when
you've been planning today for years.