So much has happened since I last wrote to you, both glamorous and grim, that I don’t even know where to begin, but I will try. It will have to be broken into parts, because within 24 hours I went from a thick forest to a meadow to a hot lava volcano and right now I feel a touch of everything, which is far too much to feel at once.
(Please note that Hot Lava Volcano has graphic content. It’s probably just rated PG-13, but in my mind it’s like R rated for sure.)
THE THICK FOREST
I attempt to sail to Tahiti for Heiva. 27 knots blowing down the channel, waves 6 feet high. I make it past the reef and out into the ocean. There is a Va’a race and Juniper and I are in the middle of it. Weaving between multi-manned canoes and their accompanying speedboats while pounding down waves. Spray across my face. Salt on my tongue. Sea rushing down the decks.
The forecast was 10 knots less than this.
I keep thinking that if I go further offshore it will calm down. I keep chanting, “Dear God please be with me. Dear God, please calm the wind down.” I make it 5 NM out. A humpback whale passes beneath me. It sets my depth sounder alarm off. I see the absence of waves where it’s body was.
I decide to turn back. With the swell I move no more towards Tahiti, than a sea cucumber sitting fat on the sea floor moves towards anything.
I turn around. Downwind, I am soaring without sail or engine because Juniper is straight surfing. I feel like a jackrabbit. I make it to the anchorage with my tail between my legs for a second time. I drop the hook in Cook’s Bay for the third time in a week. I back down on it. I check the shaft packing on the engine to make sure it’s doing right since the repair. It’s too tight, no drips at all in gear. I fix it. I count drips while backing down on the anchor again. The hook is hooked and the drips are dripping.
I think to myself, at least anchoring solo is almost second nature now. It is a mistake to think like this. We must never think that we have truly mastered something. We are masters of nothing and as soon as we think we have something, we have already lost it.
I pack a bag with a long magenta dress and a toothbrush. I paddle my surfboard to a the restaurant on shore. I stash my surfboard there and tell my friend who owns the joint to keep an eye on Juniper. I walk to another friends house. Tomatao or Tam for short. There is no phone reception where he lives. I shower, we eat, we are in a rush to get to the ferry so we can see his daughter dance on stage in Tahiti.
I realize that I forgot to turn the fridge off. Tam drives me down to the bay. I can’t see Juniper. I panic. I scream, “Juniper is not there! She’s gone! Where is she!” My face at this moment, looks like I’ve been stung by a hive of wild bees.
We drive further. I see Juniper. She is almost at the fisherman’s pier, about to smash into a boat that is docked there. I feel like I’m staring at at a dead limb. I’m screaming. The sun is a fist in my face. Fishbones. Heart-drop. Deep water. Dragon-mouth drifter fly. Sweating like the dungeon’s death of doom. I can’t find earth. I need the royal kiss of a coconut right about now.
I’m about to jump in and swim to Juniper, when a fisherman fires up his boat and I persuade him to take me and Tam there.
Onboard I discover that the engine starter button is popped through the panel and that the bridle is missing from the anchor, and the bowline on my safety line has come neatly undone, and the anchor is way past her chain, almost to the end of her rode, I never let her go past the chain.
I can’t sort out what happened and it’s a puzzle that I don’t have time to get lost in. I decide that either someone tried to steal Juniper and failed, or her chain wasn’t securely in the windlass and my cleat hitch around the sampson post was loose and the bridle snapped and she let herself all the way out. But if it’s the latter, why is the starter button broken? And how is the anchor rope still attached to the sampson post, but from a different point on the rope than where I attached it before! And how on earth did the bowline on the safety come undone?
My mind is as twisted as a DNA strand and I’m questioning everything, especially my knots, as Tam and I hoist the anchor and reset it. We drop my emergency anchor down too, just in case, but it’s so small that I’m doubtful it can hold down a fly.
We tell the fisherman to watch the boat and to call us if anything happens. Then we pick up the girl with the changing eyes, tell her the elaborate details about the boat rescue, and make it to the ferry five minutes before it departs.
I want to know what happened and am mad at myself for being on the ferry and leaving Juniper alone after all that. And I should have never tried to sail to Tahiti earlier because I knew that the anchor was secure before and that the wind reports around here are all tall tales that can’t be trusted.
I call the fisherman five times on the way to Tahiti. “Is Juniper ok?” Fisherman, “Yes, no move. Boat good.”
I feel like a fool. Tamotao tells me not to worry. Says he’s from French Polynesia and even his boat has dragged anchor before in Cook’s Bay and an American sailor had to rescue it. I know that what happened was a necessary humbling, because anchoring will never be “second nature.” I know too, that I needed to witness the almost loss of Juniper, to shut that part of me up that kept wishing for her not to be there.
Once we land in Tahiti, a message that the restaurant owner had sent hours before, comes through, “Your boat is mooving. Comme backup jury up.” Written just like that and followed by videos of two men aboard Juniper. Missing pieces to my puzzle!
Tahiti is it’s usual whirlwind. I change into my dress in a random bathroom. We run to the market to buy flower crowns that match our dresses. We run past the marina of Papeete, petals dropping. I shout hello to the Three Goddesses of Fate. We find our seats inside the stadium as the Heiva show is starting.
It’s sublime. Hula hips rattling, shaking, torpedoing with sexual fever. Grass skirts flying. Butterfly knees knocking. Sound waves. Faces like the sun. Bodies like clouds, closer to naked than clad. Flute’s and drums. Leaves and flowers. Breasts and thongs.
The breeze blowing. The beats; bitty bitty bitty bop. Bitty bop. Bitty bitty bitty bitty bop. Bop. Hundreds of voices singing in unison and rising inside the skin of every spectator.
The dancers are more than dancing, they are storytelling. There is meaning and intention behind each movement. There are three different dance groups. The first dance troupe is traditional. The second uses traditional movements, but is set in modern times. The costumes are futuristic. Silver. Outer space. Aliens. Goggles. Glow sticks. They do a masked dance pertaining to Coronavirus. A selfie-stick video dance. A drunk-driving-accident dance, complete with a gurney on stage. Tam doesn’t like this troupe at all. Says it has nothing to do with tradition. That it’s meaningless. I think it’s art. Using the same storytelling movements of the past, to incite commentary about the present. The last group is full on traditional and every dancer is cream of the crop. Each body; a sculpture, each face; a fantasy, each movement; a symphony. Their last performance features three couples in the center mimicking lovemaking and the lights get low and all eyes are stuck.
In between the acts, large TV screens show Heiva celebrations from the past. Fuzzy, black and white versions of what I’m witnessing now. One video plays and I can hear a woman moaning. I turn to watch. She is laying down, legs open, giving birth. But what pops out of her body is not a baby, it’s a rat. It must be the recreation of a mythology. I will research it’s meaning and tell you later. Anyway, the video belongs in a museum. I’ve never seen anything like it! Move over Stan Brakhage with your “Window Water Baby Moving.”
THE HOT LAVA VOLCANO
After the performance Tam and the girl with changing eyes go to a very expensive hotel. It‘s 11:30 p.m. and the expensive hotel won’t allow me to use their WiFi, so I go to the Bora Bora Bar to make a connection. I call three affordable hotels but all are full. I ask the security guard where I can sleep. His name is Rolfi. He’s all joy. Laughs a lot. Smiles a lot. Comments on the beauty of the surroundings a lot.
Rolfi makes a few calls and can’t find me a place either. Now it’s 1 a.m. and the bar is closing. He says I can sleep at the bar and take the 7 a.m. ferry back to Mo’orea in the morning. It’s an outdoor bar with penetrable shrubs surrounding it.
Rolfi says he will stay up all night while I sleep to keep me safe. There are five of us there. It’s me, Rolfi, the cleaning man, the cleaning man’s son, and the son’s friend.
Rolfi is the security guard for Miss Tahiti, Miss Heiva, Miss everything from every country that ever comes to Tahiti. He shows me pictures of him posing with all the beautiful women. He helps me arrange six plastic chairs into a bed. I sort of sleep, for a few hours, with my bag as a pillow and my pareo as a blanket. When I wake up, Rolfi is sort of sleeping too, except he’s sitting up in a chair near the shrubs, as if sleep overcame him while on guard.
I take Rolfi to breakfast at the ferry terminal. He’s dancing on the way because the day is so lovely and there is sun and rain and rainbows all at once.
I take the ferry. I start walking towards Juniper. I put my thumb out. I need to catch a lift halfway across the island. It’s a three hour walk otherwise. A man in a truck picks me up. There are two young girls in it. He says he can’t take me as far as I’m going but will take me as far as he’s going and he does. I walk some more. Maybe a mile. Thumb out. It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday. Church bells are ringing and I hear choirs. I think about how grateful I am to be in a place where I can hitchhike safely. I think about all the places on earth where hitchhiking turned sour and thumbs went south. I have been hitchhiking around Mo’orea all week and I’m not certain why I think about all of this now.
A man in a golden brown truck stops. I point to where I’m going on the map. We drive on. He speaks enough English to point to me and say, “Beautiful.” I thank him. I am wearing a green and yellow dress that has tassels on the bottom of it. My head is still wrapped in the floral crown.
I look at him. He must be about my
age and he’s not bad looking at all. Handsome I would say and fit too. Dressed like he’s going to play a sport; loose shorts, lime green t-shirt, white tennis shoes.
He puts his hand on my left leg like I’m some piece of fruit that’s ripe for the pickin! I push it away. I’ve got five minutes left to my destination. I make small talk. He tells me he lives in the mountains. I don’t know if it’s true. I look out the window at the water. I see his hand moving in the corner of my eye. I look over. It takes me a minute to realize that he’s pulling his willy out from the bottom his shorts. He starts wanking. I scream, “No, stop! Let me the fuck out of here.” I put my hand on the door handle and open the truck while it’s still moving. He slows the truck a little. I roll out of it. He bat turns before I can identify anything.
I want to call the gendarmerie and report the sex-crazed lunatic in the golden brown truck, but I have no crumbs that will lead them to him. I averted my eyes so quickly from his southern membrane, that I wouldn’t even be able to pick it out of a nude line up. And I’m so traumatized by his actions that his face has turned to mist in my mind.
I don’t know what to think. Did I do something that made him think this was acceptable? Is this an element of the culture that I don’t know about? Was he turned on by the fact that we couldn’t really communicate? Is he that desperate? Should I not have been wearing my flower crown? Do I look like the kind of gal you can just whip it out and wank in front of?
The crazy thing is, if he had any couth, I reckon he could have any woman he wanted.
I start telling everybody that I know and don’t know what happened. People just laugh or frown or say “Yea, be careful.” A Tahitian guy friend says, “Did you tell him you sailed across the ocean solo? That probably got him going?”
This isn’t funny. I don’t find it funny. I‘m not laughing at all. I feel sick and dirtier than I do when I’m lifting my anchor out of the Pao Pao mud in Cook’s Bay!
As I paddle my surfboard back to Juniper, I can’t help but notice how majestic the trees surrounding me are. It’s like I’m stoned or something and really seeing them for the first time. Then I think about how the golden truck wanker was trying to drop his seed like a tree drops it’s seed and after that the trees aren’t so pretty anymore.