Pape’ete Blues

By David Currier, Kevin Kalley -

Kevin Kalley in Pape'ete, Tahiti with island of Moorea in the background.

Kevin Kalley in Pape’ete, Tahiti with island of Moorea in the background.

(Inspired by travel writer Dave Barry’s famous “Hotel Schpennsylvania”. )

A Airport signNighttime arrival at Faaaaaaaaaa (la la la, la?) [Throw in a few apostrophes for color if you like. This is the reader participation portion of the story.] Airport , Pape’ete, Tahiti, finding our Air BNB, our (my) first shower, and our first morning has brought us our great Dave Barry moment – I’ve summoned his muse to help me write this story.

 Our chosen airline’s (the world’s current “On-Time Machine”) A330 was as uncomfortable as any other international carrier in steerage class. They are among the best of the best. And their plebe seats are equal to the worst of everybody else’s.  Whom do airlines hire to develop coach seats that guarantee that guests have an uncomfortable flight? What did we do to offend you? It’s not just the space. The coach seats suck among all airlines I’ve flown.

 And, as wonderful as the individual video screens on the back of each seat are, is it really necessary for the blank screen to be re-illuminated in Uber-BRIGHT!! mode every time the pilot or flight attendant made an announcement. I was beginning to feel like Richard Gere in the concentration camp for a new production of Bent as searchlights roamed throughout the cabin.

 Tahiti tourism does a nice job of welcoming tourists. A modestly dressed trio performed Polynesian music next to the walkway from the aircraft to Les Douanes. From their costumes, I assumed that the Amish missionaries have some major converts here. Hallelujah!  Not a sweaty breast nor sexy thigh nor bare ankle to be seen. The ukuleles, however, were perfectly tuned for God’s ears.

 Then there are the tourists… In spite of the fact that the friendly airline staff had given us our two Customs/Immigration forms just after takeoff (for our 5.5 hours flight) and provided an announcement of the flight data needed to complete them, there were some bozos on the line of 250 in ‘Arrivees’ that had not taken the time to complete the forms before arrival! The rest of us surfed over and around them as they clustered sheepishly to a small table completing their documents while griping about losing their place at the front of the line.

 Ah! The documents. Every time I arrive at a foreign airport that still requires arrivals to complete these useless forms I look for the cage of monkeys that are mindlessly making data entries to get all the uninteresting information loaded into some database that will never get looked at. Doesn’t the scan of the barcode on my passport give them all the information of my associations with terrorists that they need? And those two Tahitian documents – they asked the same questions, just in different order. Is this a test?

 And then there was Les Douanes – as I began singing refrains of Edith Piaf “J’ai jamais rien a declarer.”  Of course there was the line for “the chosen” – the EU Passports. And then another line of the 200 out of the 250 of us that are made up of Canadians, Americans, Peruvians, and citizens with passports from the Kingdom of Hawaii.  One passport agent for the EU children. One for most of the unwashed masses. And one for crew, and passengers in wheelchairs.

 The EU line disappeared quickly, “Bienvenu! Welcome Home!” Our line, that of people bringing money into the local economy, seemed to grow interminably longer as we were overcome by Tahitian humidity in the non-A/C’d airport. And (so French) even though our line was still a hundred long, as soon as the EU royalty were processed, their personal passport agent went home for the evening. God save him from having to deal with the rest of us!

 We grabbed our checked baggage! We almost never check baggage. 40 years in the airline industry and we know how many bags really do get delayed or lost. With one flight a week, when would delivery ever occur… maybe it was our checked bag that caused us to lose sleep across the Equator.  But there it was happily circling the airport hall on the now lonely baggage claim belt.  

 21:30 heures. Off to Europcar. It was a thirld-world experience.

 Kevin had made our reservations online – name, address, phone #, credit card #, passport #, birthday, cat’s favorite toy, name of his great-grandfather’s first girlfriend, and all the useless information that so many European bureaucrats seem to think they will need someday.

 Yet, upon arrival at the Europcar counter, our bubbly bi-lingual boobie had only her name and the car key to the vehicle that had been saved for us. Back to square 1. Really square. Lots of square boxes. On paper!! No computers, no printers (well there is one on the desk, disassembled, with dusty, cobweb ridden parts stacked atop its once wondrous shell, where the last repairman left them in disgust during his last visit, 1978). What should have been a 10-minute check-out of the rental car became a pleasurable 45-minute, job-security, ordeal for the lady in Martian green.

 Yes, you can decline their insurance, but after a pleasant reprimand from your mother-in-green, you have to sign another form (another square) that gives them the authority to charge your credit card another $1,000,000.00 (or was it a million Polynesian Francs; fatigué and in that heat, who cares?) should we have an accident. “We promise you’ll get a refund once your insurance company pays our ransom.”  

The best part of the experience was when she advised us to proceed to the parking lot that is shared with all the other companies. Press the lock-button on the key fob she delightfully said. “Your car is the one that smiles at you!” Of course, the Hertz girl dressed in hornet-yellow out in the shared lot had just penned in our car, so we had to deal with her thoughtlessness. 

It’s now 22:15 heures. The Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort is in Ārue on the far side (or is that The Far Side?) of Pape’ete. 

There is the now the drive from the airport to Ārue where our cute condo on Lafayette Beach is hiding! Street name signs? What are they? If you can find a street sign during daylight in Pape’ete you are lucky. At night the city streets are abandoned, except at bars, and the lights are minimal. (Perhaps the Kingdom of Hawaii has imposed a no-lights rule on Tahiti to aid the TMT scientists on Mauna Kea. The mouse that roared.) The darkened streets are downright enervé for us newcomers.  

So, totally lost, late at night, in a very dark, lightless part of the world, after a stop at The Golden Arches Bureau de Tourism (yes Ronald’s) at about 23:23 heures, and receiving driving instructions for The Tahiti Pearl Beach Resort (next to the Radisson, they said – it, too, has no sign, and will they still be open when we rush into their lobby?) where we picked up the key to our studio at the front desk of the friendly hotel. 

We parked our car, found our beach-front studio, and began to settle in. 

Queue the laughter! 

Oh, the French! So, so good at building grand chateaux, triumphal arches, and even fabulous museums about museums. In baguettes, patisseries et chocolate they excel!! But when it came to the 20th century, (or even the 21st) common sense about construction of bathroom showers was lost in a spring flood of the Seine. And we don’t refer to “flood” frivolously. Whether it’s rehabbing the toilette in a grand hotel on L’Etoile or a new apartment in French Polynesia, ils ont tous raté le bac! They failed the final exam!

Our shower, that first activity one should partake in after a long, uncomfortable, sleepless journey, is situated in a lovely, modern, tiled toilette – prettily appointed in tropical woods, pastel paint colors, a majestic glass door. But, at the Sorbonne they major in over-engineering, from our Amerloque point of view. 

The floor of the shower is nicely engineered to slope toward the drain. But for some unknown reason – that’s a poor use of the word “reason,” said Mr. Barry’s muse…. – for some unknown reason, the open, back edge of the floor is intentionally sloped into to bathroom. And the powerful shower head, when attached to its pole, sprays water to the rear of the shower stall. With no curb to keep the water in, I’m suddenly screaming that half an inch of water has covered the tiles in the bathroom itself and is gushing across the bamboo floor in the bedroom!   

Shower in Studio Elisa, Arue, Tahiti.

Shower in Studio Elisa, Arue, Tahiti.

Ever creative, Kevin quickly developed a “sand-bag” scheme. Filling Zip-lock bags with water, he created a damn to keep the water in the shower. Then he grabbed an umbrella which he opened inside the shower to deflect the water droplets from the spray back into the shower. “Hello, Tahiti. Have you heard of ‘the shower curtain’? Available at EcoBrico! (Isn’t opening the umbrella in the house an omen? Mon dieu!) 

Then there is the humidity. The first evening on the beach was not bad, so even with the weak air conditioner pumping away almost uselessly, we survived. In the early morning I turned it off so we could better hear the sea.  

But when we got up I closed the balcony windows and turned the A/C back on. A Boston-like gust of cold N’oreaster wind swirled over my neck. “Duck”, I screamed! “HAIL!!!”  The air conditioner actually spat mini ice cubes across the desk and onto the bamboo floor! As I shook the snow and ice from my hair I roared with laughter. 

So, settled in, we rigoléd to ourselves about being the Ugly Americans! About being the tourists who should never leave home! About adjusting to life in another culture.  And that other culture affords us wonderful food, beautiful smiles, incredible postcard views around every curve in the road and our greatest worries are where will we find the best patisserie with café chaud that is vachement bon! Chauvin? On éspère que non!

If there is a composer out there, this story deserves a new ballad, “Pape’ete Blues.” Make it a jazz tempo. The French love jazz.