Lock down is Lifted at Hotel California!
On 29th April 2020 the lockdown restrictions on Tahiti were mostly removed, but inter- island travel remains forbidden. So we can explore the island but we are not allowed to continue our journey. Our situation was lyrically coined by the Eagles in the song Hotel California; "you can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave"!
Frankly, we are quite happy to stay here for now and we are making the most of the situation. We are very thankful to be in one of the safest places in the world, firstly from the Pandemic and secondly from crime, and we are now enjoying a level of freedom that will make you envious!
Warning! Do not read any further if you cannot face seeing pictures of people having a great time! Tahiti has now become a significant place for Richard and I due to the circumstances of our unplanned stay. We have been here for almost 6 weeks and are settling into the environment and our routines. Walks around the town have become more purposeful since the shops, bars and restaurants have gradually all opened. The presidential palace is on a cool tree lined road we often walked along during lockdown and we always passed this amazing mural on the way, which has the same symbol as in the centre of the wrought iron gates. The symbols are the sea, the sky and on the boat are the tikis to protect the people. Cinemas and sports events remained forbidden, church services are also limited. We did find it amusing and ironic that after the big announcement for the end of lockdown followed by the opening of shops and venues lasted for a day before everything closed again on Friday 1st May as it was a public holiday!
Before lockdown lifted we had a few rainy days with thunder and lightening, so we took the opportunity of cooler temperatures to walk further through the suburbs and out along the hillside lanes. On the ground we found mangoes and avocados some of which were suitable for eating and once peeled were delicious for lunch. Early Polynesian colonisers brought fruit trees, bamboo for building and medicinal plants to Tahiti with them because the previously un-populated volcanic islands had minimal diversity of flora. The Polynesians also bought pigs (bit tricky on their reed canoes), dogs and chickens but sensibly nothing harmful like snakes or scorpions. The worst animals we have encountered are small biting bugs like mosquitoes and tiny ones that make you itch but remain unseen, known as "no see ums"!
After our traditional Sunday morning walk and un traditional fruit lunch it was still raining and we spent the afternoon traditionally watching a couple of films! The skies were so dull that for the first time since arriving we had to charge the batteries with the engine as our solar panels were not providing enough power, for watching the TV! Entertainment is shared and boats with old fashioned technology are swapping DVDs as well as books. Games have made a comeback and we played bridge again, re learning the rules and doing quite well. A Phase 10 card game was spread over two afternoons and we also learnt to play Liar Dice with our American friends, which was quite a rowdy party! A dockside Euchre (card game) tournament was successfully organised with 10 pairs playing in rotation. Richard and I had never played Euchre before but we still managed to win the tournament and we were pleased to receive a very useful magnetic travelling board game set!
The best news for us was that we could go out to explore this amazing island. Firstly, we went diving on Friday 1st May exactly two months since our last dive in the Galápagos! The dive boat was approached by the Gendarme who had a long discussion with the owners and finally allowed the dives to go ahead.
Diving was brilliant. It felt very good to go out further and faster than we had been for five weeks and black is very slimming! The dive boat moored in shallow water and I was very surprised to see local tourists wading about up to their waists in the water, not quite what I had expected.
We initially swam to the sand bank ourselves and regrouped there before heading into deeper water to dive on two wrecks, a plane, purposefully sunk for diving and then a ship. We saw a big ugly reef stone fish and plenty of other pretty fish. The second dive was situated further round the coast on a series of coral pinnacles. On top of one we saw a huge anemone (but missed the Nemo clown fish) as well as lots of turtles and other colourful fish. The combination of a public holiday following the lifting of lockdown and the ban on single person water sports meant all the locals had rushed to the beaches and onto the water. There were surfers, canoes, small boats, paddle boards, swimmers but no sailing boats yet. Some of the kayaks and boards like to ride on the wake from the powers boats!
The next day we went on an island tour with two other families and had a fantastic day out. Our guide took us to the oldest Christian church on the island first before visiting a Polynesian temple.
Next up was a fabulous grotto which we swam right into before being introduced to another guide at his waterfront house. From here we kayaked across the bay to visit a very small island or Motu where we swam and found coconuts and crabs. I love that our American friends took the cooler with beer on the kayak!
On our return Dominic showed us how to make Poisson-Cru which is raw tuna with chopped onion, tomatoes, cucumber, mixed together with lime and the fresh coconut milk. This was the interesting bit- the milk is squeezed from the grated flesh.
We had started our tour at 0800 and arrived back at the marina at 18.30 and were so excited after our day out that we all went straight out for cocktails and karaoke! Not being used to this action packed itinerary, the next day, Sunday, I was too exhausted to get off the boat!
After fitness class on Monday it was time for traditional Tahitian tattoos. British sailors first saw this form of body art in Otaheiti, as it was called then in 1700s. Several of the Bounty crew were tattooed during their 5 month sojourn here while they collected the breadfruit trees that the botanist Joseph Banks had recognised as a valuable source of food for the slave population in the Caribbean.
Historically the Polynesian culture is an oral culture, so the use of the tattoo art with distinctive designs and motives was used to express a person's identity and personality. Tattoos would indicate status in a hierarchical society as well as sexual maturity, genealogy and ones rank within the society. Tattoos remain a huge part of the culture with most locals adorned with an array of patterns. I found the process just as excruciating as I remember from 20 years ago, but managed not to pass out this time! Thankfully, I was wearing my face mask as underneath I looked like Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" only worse! Anyway, we are both pleased with the results, and will explain the symbology over a pint or two when we return! I hope to swim with Manta Rays on a future dive to add significance! Tahiti is also famous for black pearls and so I bought some souvenirs! Whilst it is great that the shops are open again, it is starting to get very expensive!