My flight from Japan to Papeete in Tahiti meant I crossed the International Date Line. I left in the late afternoon and after ten hours arrived in the morning of the same day. Weird.
There have been a few disappointments in the last two weeks, but some great times too.
I had been warned about Papeete. It’s a bit shabby and dull. So I took the ferry to the nearby island of Moorea on the recommendation of a couple at my hostel. I had not done my research and this was a big mistake. There is nothing at the arrival point – no information, no cafe, no bus that I could make out. There were a few taxis, (but I didn’t know where to go), or a car rental. I was only going to be there for a few hours and the island has one road that runs in a circle, so I started walking – another mistake. I found a supermarket and bought a drink and a salty snack, but I was soon getting sunburnt, in spite of my hat and sunscreen. I was told off for taking a “private road” which had appeared to be an ordinary track by a river where I thought I could sit in the shade. Then I tried walking to the nearest beach, but after half-an-hour I was very uncomfortable. Luckily I spotted a taxi and flagged it down. The female driver was worried about me walking in the heat and suggested taking me to the Sofitel Resort, where there was a beach and I could get a drink. When she dropped me off, she declined to take any money. Sweet.
At The Sofitel the staff were charming – but this hotel was seriously upmarket. Here are a couple of pictures of the location.
So to make up for my day having a crummy start, I settled down with a house cocktail and chilled until it was time to take a taxi back to the ferry. All’s well that ends well – even if it was a bit expensive.
This is really the point about Tahiti, I think. Most of the tourists I met were taking island-hopping cruises. It’s obviously best to have plans and money to enjoy what the place has to offer and I didn’t have much of either.
Nevertheless, the following day I took a tour of Tahiti with a local guide. It is beautiful once you get out of the city.
For the record, our guide described how his people settled in Hawaii and New Zealand and he was convinced they originally came from South America. Looking at him, I can see his point.
Next stop, Venice Beach in Los Angeles.
I had a good time wandering up and down the seafront, checking out the shops, the sounds and the people. Sat on the beach listening to the Steve Miller Band. Later it became overcast and started to rain, which obviously must happen sometimes, but please, not on my first visit to “sunny California”.
I was planning to visit my old school friend, Kathy, who is now an American citizen. She lives in Petaluma, North of San Francisco. Petaluma has been the location for a number of movies, such as American Grafitti, Peggy Sue Got Married and Pleasantville. It has some historic and period buildings.
Though it’s the epitome of “small town”, it feels like an interesting and agreeable place to live.
Kathy and her partner Cindy had me to stay for a few days. It was good to be out of the hostels and with someone I care about. She is an artist, a writer and a fount of knowledge as well as being a good friend. She even took me to see a Redwood forest in an area that was not a focus for tourist trips, so we could enjoy the experience in peace.
This was a complete contrast to my time in San Francisco. There were plenty of good things. I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. The cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf is fun. .
I sat inside as the seats outside were taken very quickly. The gripman controls the number of people getting on at each stop, as well as the starting and stopping of the tram itself. I noticed a group of English people who sat in the outward facing seats only to find that half a dozen people were allowed to stand on the step below them. Not only did this obstruct their view, but they were within inches of their faces. It amused me, as my travels have taught me that most other nationalities, placed in such close proximity to another human being, would begin to chat, as indeed I was doing with an Asian woman and her son inside. Instead, these four English people behaved as if they were on the London Tube and kept their eyes firmly fixed on some point in the far distance.
Fisherman’s Wharf is mainly seafood restaurants and is where you would take a trip to Alcatraz, which I failed to do. I did walk through Chinatown
There are many interesting buildings in SF lining the extreme slopes known to me from so many American movies. This is Telegraph Hill, a convenient spot granting a prospect of the bay and city.
And I this is the house in Haight-Ashbury where The Grateful Dead lived.
However, though my hostel was secure and had very good facilities, it backed on to Tenderloin, an area that felt far from safe. My first impression of SF had been of a man without shoes but with several pairs of socks on, swearing and spitting at a woman who was sitting at the bus stop. As with many others I encountered in the city, he obviously had mental health problems. There are many homeless persons wheeling bags around, people openly dealing drugs on the street and a lot of shouting and quarrelling. I know that these troubles occur in all cities and that SF has tried to do something about them, which is why there are so many desperate people there, but it is impossible to remain unmoved.
The weather had turned bad and I was tired of the city, so I flew to Phoenix. Why did I take the plane? Well, there are trains and buses to take you around, but the schedules are frequently not acceptable. I’ve never thought it a good idea to be hanging around a bus station at two or three in the morning, whatever country I find myself in, and hostels usually don’t let you check in early in the day or late at night.
I arrived at the airport in good time and quarter of an hour after I arrived I received a text to tell me my flight was cancelled. This was the first time I had any problems with flights in the fifteen months I had been travelling, so I suppose it was due, but unexpected in the USA, particularly as there were no weather problems and no explanation given.
Anyway, I arrived in Phoenix a few hours late. Took the free Skytrain and the light rail towards my hostel without a hitch. Got talking to someone on the way, a situation which has reoccurred time and again – Americans love to talk. Stayed at a very welcoming hostel –
Camel Backpackers, named after the large rock, (I wouldn’t call it a mountain), to the East of the city.
I like Phoenix. It is big and spread out and there is no apparent heart of the city, but the space and the light appealed to me. There is public transport that gets you around, some interesting neighbourhoods and beautiful sunsets.
I’m getting used to having to wait “like foreverrrr” for the signal to change to let me cross the road, (same story in Japan).
I went to the Heard Museum of Native American artefacts. There was a plethora of objects to admire, but I particularly liked the spirit dolls, or Kachina. These are often given by the men to the women and represent some aspect of themselves as well as a native spirit.
This one, for example, is a storyteller.
The best thing, though, was that I had stumbled on a Native American Hoop Dance competition in the Museum grounds. Representatives of many tribes, of all ages, Hopi, Cherokee, Navajo, a Cree from Canada and a young man from Hawaii, danced with anything from five to fifteen hoops, which were laid on the ground and picked up using only their feet. The dances represented a series of creatures and activities; an eagle flying, shooting an arrow from a bow, a turkey, riding a horse, all done using the hoops. The dancers body had to pass through each hoop and they were judged on speed and interpretation. It was graceful and astonishing. This is not a good picture, but it gives you an idea.
I am now in Tucson and due to a sudden change of plans, beyond my control, I have to move to another hostel. In my next post I will write about my visits to the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert!