Jul 10

Getting to Fakarava

Tag: tripsJonathon Haradon @ 9:59 am

(concerning events, June 12th-June 16th)

I wanted to take a rugged cargo ship from Tahiti to Fakarava.  A small cargo ship that bucked through wild seas for three days.  A vessel where I had to bring my own food and sleep on the deck for want of space anywhere under shelter.  The Cobia.  A wild adventure to start a indefinitely long voyage.  Sure there are nicer cargo ships, the Aranui 3 for example or the Stella Marie X, where the ships are large with less rolling, you are given a deluxe cabin, and fed three generous meals a day.  The Cobia however, is not one of the nicer.  It was the cheapest and the only amenities as far as i could tell was a life jacket.  It would take three days for the Cobia to reach Fakarava.  I imagined three days of pitching over a wild ocean, holding onto the rail and praying my one hundred pounds of supplies I was taking to Syzygy would not fly into the ocean.  I couldn’t wait.

On Friday, trying to buy my ticket on the cargo ship to Fakarava, I had to walk three miles from Papette, mostly along a nearly deserted road leading to the cargo ships.  It was deserted because the cargo dock workers were in cahoots with the firemen, who had decided to strike on Thursday.  Incidentally, my flight from Los Angeles was the last international flight into or out of Tahiti for a week.  No firemen = no international flights.  For some reason, domestic flights could still happen.  Apparently the airport has lower standards of safety for it’s domestic travelers than the international tourist travelers.

In route to the cargo ship offices, a mile from downtown Papette, I had to walk past a blockade.  In the middle of the two-lane road there were just a couple of small tires.  There was also a dozen large Tahitians.  They looked to be happily inebriated.  As I walked up to the blockade, I debated whether or not I should turn around as I had seen a number of cars and motorcycles  do during my tedious on-foot approach.  I figured the worst they could do to me was direct me to an alley, rob me and leave me for dead, but that most likely the worst would be a simple get lost.  So I strode up to the largest Tahitian I saw.  He was laughing, clearly enjoying not working and instead turning frustrated drivers around.  With my limited (read: non-existent) French, I pantomimed that I wished to walk over the bridge separating Papette from the cargo ships on Moto Utu.  I stumbled the words, I ‘erred’ quite a bit.  I smiled.  I said ‘It’s O.K.?”  repeatedly.  He boomed with laughter, clearly at me and kept repeating something in Tahitian.  Definitely not French, I can at least recognize French.  I walked on, sure I was the laughing stock of the dozen bouncers, but glad to have been able to walk across.

Two miles later, I arrived at one of the cargo ship offices.  It was small, clean and wonderfully air-conditioned.  Sweat that had been running profusely stopped in it’s tracks.  No matter what happened, I planned on stretching out this visit as long as possible.  This would not be hard, I’m sure, given my aforementioned skills in French.

Short it was not, but I exited with a ticket on the cargo ship Cobia bound for Fakarava.  I was even in a cabin instead of sleeping on the deck.  For food and water though, I was on my own for the three day trip.  It took me asking them about the strike though, for the nice ladies to realize I should call the captain first thing Monday morning to ascertain whether or not the Cobia would be leaving.  I left with his number in hand.

I called Monday morning.  The Cobia was not leaving.  The strike was still on.  The captain said call the next day.  I called the next day.  The strike had lifted!  The Cobia was still not going.  Trouble with the fuel.  Try again next week.  Frustrated, I envisioned this laissez-faire attitude continuing indefinitely.  I wanted to be on my way to Fakarava now!  The incompatibility of travel outside industrialized nations combined with industrialized-nation-attitude of impatient hurry-ness was becoming apparent.

No other cargo ships were leaving for Fakarava until next Monday so I wouldn’t get to Fakarava until next Thursday.  Nine more days of waiting in Papeete and on a ship was simply unacceptable to me.  So Tuesday afternoon a refund was procured, the nice Tahitian ladies in the air-conditioned office profusely apologized, and the cute French woman at Air Tahiti was happy to fly me to Fakarava.  I would be in Fakarava tomorrow.

I flew from Papeete to Fakarava on Wednesday for three times the cost and in only three hours, instead of three days.  A symmetrically fair trade I suppose.  I also traded the rugged wild seas for plush seats and fantastic overhead fly-by views of the atolls.

Landing in Fakarava, you could look out both sides of the plane and see nothing but water.  The atoll ring is merely 450 feet wide, taken up almost entirely by a runway.  After the plane landed, a walked about 100 feet to the tiny open air baggage check.  20 feet beyond that was a small dock for dinghies.  I was disappointed that Matt was hanging out at the dock, but apparently he was having fuel problems of his own.  with my stellar French skills, I hitched a ride into town, got dropped off at the main dock, and asked the one boat there if he had a VHF.  I asked him this by pantomiming that I was holding something and talking into it and then said “VHF?”  with a clear uplift of my voice.  He replied “Oui!” but then intimated that it might not work.  Karen’s voice rang through though, when I called and Matt was sent to pick me up.

I have finally joined our boat.  I am now part of the trip.  I am emotionally simultaneously exhausted/overwhelmed and bursting with energy.  I am ready for an indefinitely long voyage!

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