April 17, 2013
39 of 65
Life doesn’t have to be complicated. It was just a vacation for us, but it could be “real” life.
Cathy and I would rise early to walk the 200 yards to the beach and Cook’s Bay. The morning clouds on Mt. Mouaroa (the peak shown as “Bali Hai” in the movie South Pacific) were beautiful; the sunset on the mountain would be even more so. From there it was a short walk to the market. Most products sold in Moorea, French Polynesia were expensive due to shipping costs. The local produce was reasonably priced. Delicious French bread cost only pennies because of government subsidies. We bought baguettes each day, along with imported French cheese. A few bottles of Hinano Beer for later completed the shopping trip.
We sat on the balcony off the bedroom with the pineapple or other fresh fruit purchased the day before and ate breakfast.
The best pineapple in the world – and the best papaya and coconut and star fruit – was sold by Mr. White. His name did not sound Polynesian, but he was native. He and his sons owned hundreds of acres fronting the beach, property that would be worth millions to a real estate developer. He was retired, living with his wife in a simple house. His children and grandchildren were within walking distance. He would gather local produce and place it on a table at the beach to sell to tourists strolling by. We stopped each day for delicious fruit and conversation. Mr. White had traveled and spent time in the United States. His English was good and he could help us with our French.
It is less than 30 miles around the island. Most days we spent walking. We walked about halfway around, some days going clockwise and counterclockwise on other days. We relented and rented a car to drive the other half and to explore some hidden valleys and scenic mountain lookouts, but mostly we walked. We passed many of the 18,000 inhabitants in their yards or walking along the streets or in the fields or shops or taking their children to school. Like all tourists, we quickly learned to say “ia ora na” (pronounced yo-rah-na) for “hello” and “mauru’uru” (pronounced mah-roo-roo) for “thank you” and a few other Polynesian words. That was enough to make friends as we went.
Some days, we caught a ride with Muk as far as his farm, letting us walk further up the coast in the time available.
Muk is Don McCallum, one of three Californians – the “Bali Hai Boys”- who came to the island nearly half a century ago to grow vanilla and chase the vahines. The vanilla plantation did not work out, and they bought a small hotel so they could remain. The hotel grew until they owned four resorts on several islands. They pioneered the over-water bungalows that you now see everywhere. The resort business was not completely successful. They had to sell their holdings and now have one small property.
The vahines? Well, each of them has had several wives and numerous children.
One of the Bali Hai Boys has passed away. The others have stayed on Moorea. Muk is the only one we met. Each evening he sat down with a group of us and a bottle of Patrón Tequila – someone always brought the Patrón as a gift – and told stories about the old days. Great stories. Muk was in his 70s then. He is now over 80 and fighting cancer. I don’t know how long the stories will continue. A few have been captured on video and saved to You Tube, thank goodness.
Nights were warm. There were few lights, so the stars seemed very bright – the stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere that seemed strange and exotic. Then clouds and fog began to form. We had no television and no computer, so it was time for reading when we came back inside. Afterward was quiet, peaceful sleep so we could rise and do something very much the same for one more day.
Eventually we had to leave. We were expected on Bora Bora. Life doesn’t have to be complicated.