“So what would you like to do in Tahiti?”
“Get under that gorgeous water. Find some sharks!”
“Sharks here are monsters…very dangerous. No.”
Welp, there goes my shark diving. Maybe I will do it anyway…tomorrow.
Hotu arrived in his chariot at 1:15 – a truck with some seats and a tarp in the back. He put me in the front. I would like to assume I was getting special treatment, but I’m going to go ahead and guess it is because I’m the only single traveler this island has seen in a while. C’est la vie.
Every quarter mile we drove, Hotu pointed out a fruit bearing tree of some sort. Mango, coconut, lychee, banana, star fruit, breadfruit, dragonfruit, guava, pineapple…they’re all here. We pulled over and Hotu showed me this type of fern that closes immediately when you touch it. It just snaps shut like a clamshell. BAM! He grabbed a leaf for me from the forest. “Smell it.” The leaf was more fragrant than fresh lemonade squeezed from thirty ripe lemons. This stuff needs to be bottled and sold, because I am now in the market. I look up, and in front of me is a hundred foot waterfall, separated by pitches. A mile down the road is the power plant. 40% hydroelectric and 50% solar, and everything works exactly as it should – clean energy is embraced by the islanders and is utilized in a big way here. I stick my head out of the window to breathe in the smell of Tahiti. The air smells like lemon, wet and clean. Constant rain creates waterfalls that erupt out of the flower covered mountains. Hotu plucks a hibiscus and I put it in my hair. Another corner and there are now waterfalls on each side. I stick my head out the window and listen as the rain makes a hollow tink as it hits the flower tucked behind my ear. I spray bug spray, but they swarm on my skin anyway.
A friend of Hotu’s spots us and walks towards the truck. As he is walking towards us in his orange Hawaiian shorts and hello kitty flip flops, I notice two trunks for legs. He has two palm trees tattooed on the front and back of each leg. I’m talking three foot tall palm trees. These are no joke. His considerable tummy also houses the outlines of a very large turtle shell. This is a man who loves his island.
The world is awash with deep hues of green that drink up the rain. The mountains sound like they are smiling.
Hotu asks if I have seen Mutiny on the Bounty before. Apparently Papeete is the stage. I’ll have to put that on my list.
We pull over again next to a Tahitian chestnut tree. If you grab a rock and strike the trunk, it gongs with a hollow boom. These trees were once used for communication. They sure beat out our cans and string routine…
There is a tree outside of Papeete called the Hotu tree. The green fruit is put into a basket in the river, and the fish swimming near fall asleep. They float to the top of the water and are then gathered up by hand, still unconscious. This method of fishing is now illegal because the fruit was so potent it began to kill the coral reef. That is one serious fruit…
The rain keeps pounding the car, but we go for a swim anyway. In the caldera between huge volcanic mountains, there is a swimming hole that topped any I could even imagine. I walked to the water’s edge and jumped in without pause. When I surface, I opened my eyes to a waterfall in front of me. Next to the waterfall, a rocky area that acts like a natural hot tub, bubbling away fiercely. The water is cool from the rain, and clear enough to see a few feet down. The smooth rocks at my feet are soft enough to make me wonder if they are the freshwater eels we had just met upstream. I was banking on the fact that they are scared of people…glad it worked out in my favor. This swim refreshed my senses and made me feel reborn. Even my skin feels softer. What do they put in this Tahitian water??
The Rea is a pink and red flower in the shape of a cone. If you squeeze it, a liquid with the consistency of shampoo comes out. It smells like hibiscus and honey mixed together. Turns out, the Tahitians use this flower for shampoo, and it works better than anything you can buy. I tried it, I’m sold. I can still smell the Rea on my hands…another potion I’d like to bottle up and take with me.
What an incredible day on the island.