Odds and Ends

Here’s a collection of miscellaneous observations about the Marquesas and Tuamotus that didn’t make it into previous blogs, but that we found interesting.

On every island and atoll there was a concrete recreation area with a basketball goal at each end. With possibly one exception, all of the basketball goals had the hoops (not just the nets) missing. I’m not sure what master plan saw the people of French Polynesia taking up basketball, but it never caught on. Volleyball is popular here (as it was in the Galapagos) and soccer is played on the concrete areas as well, but bocce ball seems to be the most common game, especially among the adults.

Finding a toilet (especially a public one) with both toilet paper and a toilet seat is a somewhat rare occurrence. Many cruisers carry toilet paper in a ziploc bag as a permanent part of their shore bag. Another interesting restroom feature that’s not uncommon is a lack of running water. In this case, there is usually a large barrel of water nearby and you simply carry small buckets of it to the toilet to fill the tank before or after you flush.

It’s not unusual for Polynesians to have visited the US. They hold French passports, and because of the nuclear testing that occurred in the Tuamotus, salaries were fairly high, and the French have consented to maintain a significant flow of cash into Polynesia now that the nuclear testing has stopped. Hawaii, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York seem to be popular destinations.

We’ve already mentioned that pigs and chickens are often kept in the yard. Roosters are sometimes tied by the leg to a tree, pigs are usually tied by the leg, and many hens and roosters wander free. Of course if you have a pig in the yard, it’s so that someday it ends up on the table, and Lauren and I both heard the sound of a pig being killed for slaughter the day before the bishop came to Kauehi. I was walking back to the boat while she was walking to the store, but it was one of the first things we brought it up the next time we saw each other. It’s a sound you instantly recognize but never hear in the US no matter how many bacon cheeseburgers you eat.

When we were talking with Jimmy on Kauehi, he said “Obama, Yes We Can” several times. It’s really hard to appreciate the widespread influence of US pop culture and politics until you come to the middle of the ocean and find that people here really care about the US president and the death of Michael Jackson. It reminded us of visiting Bermuda in November last year, where hand-painted Obama signs were a common sight. We overheard a local telling a story about the scene in Bermuda on election night in the US. Apparently a couple of the bars in the main town were full of people watching the returns, and when the result was announced, people from a bar frequented primarily by white Europeans & Americans ran out into the street where they found the people from another bar down the street frequented primarily by black locals also rushing out. The two groups stopped and looked at each other then ran toward each other. When the groups met in the middle of the street, there were high fives and cheers all around. To me, the amazing thing is that no matter what your preference is in terms of the train of Republicans and Democrats that fill the oval office, someone on a small island in the middle of the ocean is more passionate about the US President than many US citizens are. It’s also an almost certain guarantee that a local will really like at least one well-known US singer (though their taste can be entertaining).

An interesting thing seems to happen when someone from a modern Western culture becomes an ex-pat and is deprived of the opportunity to speak with people that either speak English or share the same cultural background and general news interests. They become ravenous for conversation with English speakers with a similar perspective. There was an Australian guy on Ua Pou that was married to a local and was the only native English speaker we met in the Marquesas. He was in his 70’s and was almost impossible to end a conversation with unless you just walked out of sight. Lauren and I met someone similar in Jamaica, a Canadian who had retired in “paradise”, but even with English as a local language, he was starved for conversation with a North American. With my French being pretty rudimentary, I was surprised at how excited I got when we met a someone who spoke Spanish as well. Although it’s possible to get around and take care of necessities without a common background and very little common language, it’s really nice to talk to someone with whom these are shared.

The feet of people who go barefoot for a lifetime are very large, especially wide, and calloused. It’s hard to imagine them ever fitting into shoes. Some of the old men in the procession at Kauehi were barefoot or wearing only flip-flops. English speakers call this route through the Pacific “the (coconut) milk run” but the Germans call it “the barefoot route.” It’s easy to identify the ones that have actually lived the barefoot life.