Ia Orana

After a week in London (highlights: hanging with my old flatmate and great friend Sam, and seeing Tom Stoppard’s new play, Rock’n’Roll) it was time to make a passage for home. My last port of call on this adventure was Tahiti. As if to emphasise that you shouldn’t be allowed too much of a good thing, all international arrivals and departures take place between the rather inhospitable hours of 11pm and 3am. Clearing customs at such a late hour, I kipped near the airport for a few hours before taking an early morning bus downtown, connecting with the first ferry bound for Moorea, a postcard of motu reefs, tropical plantations, and seabreeze bungalows. And honeymooners.

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One of Tahiti’s many highlights are its coral reefs and marine life. Even snorkellers are often able to swim with reef sharks, sea turtles, and sting rays. Flying in via New York, the customs officer at JFK, upon identifying my nationality, became quite animated. News had just filtered through concerning Steve Irwin. That crocodile guy, he explained, had been killed by a sting ray barb.

I’ve always feared sting rays. Whilst journalists at home repeatedly quoted marine experts insisting on the placid nature of these creatures, my adrenalin always goes into overdrive when they I see them down at Gordon’s Bay. Their faces look almost angelic, yet if looks could kill … I glance sideways into the eyes of these unique creatures and I see pure evil.

It was therefore disconcerting when my host in Moorea, listing the best things to do on the island, included two locations where I could swim with rays among his top 3. Two hours later I was standing in a metre of water, having anchored my rented kayak, handfeeding a posse of them. Black tails eased by as muted profanities dispersed into my snorkel.

Moorea

Back on the main island, with an afternoon to kill before checking in for my 1:50am flight home, I plotted my way down to Punaauia beach (buses are not numbered – the locals know which one to catch by identifying the driver! – so it was good fortune that got me on the right bus, and caught a glimpse of the sign that read >Plage Publique about 20 minutes down the road).

A single sunbather impeded my isolation in this magical setting. Not that I was raising objections, as her own form was quite breathtaking. An expanse of wet slate slunk between us and the water, and I was most careful to negotiate it without slipping ass over tit. Having done so with far less grace than I might have hoped, I turned to see if my beach accomplice was checking me out. She was sitting up on her towel, looking out, our eyes were about to meet, this lovely lass whose luminous pale skin seemed to defy the Sun, when I did indeed fall ass over tit, landing with a thud onto the moss-ridden slab. On all fours I scrambled into the water and prayed it swallow me up.

Miss Tahiti soon graced the water with her presence, gliding over the same trecherous ground like she was walking onto a yacht, waded near to me, and waited for me to fawn. She’s a law student at the University of Punaauia, she’d travelled to Sydney two years before, where she found the men to be less than agreeable types (we overdid the fawning), and through her broken English and my schoolboy French, we discussed life in Tahiti and the tensions between the indigenous Tahitian and French settlement populations. She was rather indifferent towards the issues confronting the village communities, yet she proved engaging company on the final afternoon of my trip.

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