Shifting Gears

Five islands (7 if you count the ones we landed on) and 3 archipelagoes later, we have said farewell to French Polynesia. Our last day of travel was pretty challenging. We left Rangiroa around 10 am and flew back to Tahiti where, in a moment of clarity, I had booked us into a hotel. We had to be at the airport at midnight for a 2:30 am flight to New Zealand and originally the plan was just to wait it out somewhere. Fortunately, I realized that this was a really bad idea and instead we went to a hotel with a pool and a restaurant. The room was ordinary enough, but the view from the lobby was impressive.


Abraham and I took a taxi in to Papeete around 4 pm just to have a look around, but when we got there we found that they were hosing down the sidewalks and most of the shops had put up their shutters. The sun sets early in the tropics and we only had about another hour and a half of light. The city had what we both identified as a sort of Saigonesque feel. Of course, neither of us has ever been to Saigon, so I don’t know where we got that idea exactly. But it’s French and tropical and sort of seedily charming. I would have liked more time there but I didn’t much fancy wandering around after dark, so when the sun set we went back to the hotel to catch a couple of hours of sleep.

Well, that was a fond hope. Two single beds, 5 people; you do the math. Dani got a little bit of sleep, and I got a little, but I’m really not sure about the rest of them. Here’s a photo of the boys doing a really good imitation of Zombies at the Faa’a airport around 1 am:

Papeete airport

The only thing that salvaged the experience was this great group outside the international arrivals area, apparently waiting to serenade some homecoming friends. The woman with the guitar [sic] was particularly wonderful.

Faa'a Airport

So, now it’s on to New Zealand. I think we’re all going to miss French Polynesia, having kind of gotten the hang of it by now. Another couple of weeks and I’d have had them all speaking a bit of French; Seven was well along and Matiu, who actually knows a little, was at least helping me translate the menus. We had even mastered a few words (of the hello, please, and thank you variety) of Tahitian. As for the bigger picture, I have been trying to ascertain what exactly I’ve learned but I think it’s going to be a while before I can process it all. On that point I was rather struck the other day by this passage in The Biographer’s Tale by A. S. Byatt:

“We see most clearly at a distance; details confuse us; we must get away from what we desire to judge; summer is best described on a winter day.”

The Prodigal Returns

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Editor of Harvard Review and author of "Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia" and "Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All."

11 thoughts on “Shifting Gears”

  1. But we’re addicts now and you can’t leave us blogless after you fly out of French Polynesia; you have to continue this in NZ.
    Er, I think it might be a ukulele (Hawaiian for ‘flea’) and not a guitar.

  2. Hi Christina and Whanau

    Welcome to Aotearoa

    Naumai Haere mai

    Haere mai e te Motu

    He mihi mahana ki a koutou katoa

    Hope you have a great stay in NZ

    Kia ora mai


  3. I love the quote from A.S. Byatt…so perfect.

    And it is sweet to see the group of welcomers…with their music and flower-adorned dresses…

  4. I’m going to have a long talk with my therapist about why my family has never even once greeted me at the airport with leis, singing, or a small guitar.

    Looks like you guys are having an incredible adventure!

  5. I’ve been following and enjoying your blog, too, from Mexico City. I may need to make that trip someday…at least all those years of studying French would be useful there.

    People have been asking me all year “what I’m writing about Mexico City.” Now, I will respond “summer is best described on a winter day.”

    See you back in Cambridge…

  6. When will you arrive in Tonga? My family is anxiously awaiting your arrival!!! Send me an email or comment on your blog. What wonderful pictures!


    1. Dear Ana, Sorry I didn’t see this sooner; I might have saved Sateki a trip to the airport. He has been unbelievably kind and welcoming (stay tuned for the Tongan post). Anyway all’s well here. Thanks for all your help. XXXX Chris, Seven, and the boys

      1. I just spoke with my family in Tonga and hoped they had treated you well with delicious authentic entree’s from Tonga’s rich soil and entertained by the children! I will anxiously await your blog on the Friendly Island of Tonga!!!

        Ofa Atu to your family,

  7. Well, we already knew from the Come on Shore reviews that you’re an insufferable harridan of a wife. I can’t wait to see what the critics do when they find out that you dragged a picky eater out of the range of McDonald’s and discussed French seediness with your eldest!

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