No, I wasn't late. I was early. But then, I reasoned, I might as well get up. I had a long list of outstanding items to finish up during my last few hours of decent wifi. And anyway, who can sleep when they're worried about spending two weeks in a dorm on a ship, with no refuge, shared showers and toilets, no way out?
I'd finished my Christmas shopping yesterday, ordering presents to my mother's house for late Christmas when I arrived home at the end of December. Now I paid for more phone credit, more French Polynesian wifi credit, and extra SMS-to-email credits. I figured I'd have more chances to use my phone than my computer over the next two weeks in the Marquesas. My job would have to wait—I wasn't getting it done in the next three hours.
I carried my luggage upstairs to the reception area of Papeete's Fare Suisse lodge in stages. First, the bag that was going into storage. Second, my backpack, streamlined and slimmed down to fit in the luggage locker in the ship's dorms. Third, my breakfast and daypack.
Upstairs, I got my first look at some of my fellow Aranui passengers. I wasn't sure what to make of them.
The woman sitting next to me said something bizarre. "Beni," she said, referring to the guesthouse owner. "Imagine having to live with that man."
I stared for a beat, wondering what in the hell she was talking about. Beni was an efficient, friendly Swiss man who owned the lodge, and there was absolutely nothing to complain about with him. He was friendly and funny, but mostly, he was prompt and thorough, not to mention providing a tremendous public service with affordable, nice lodging in Tahiti. So I answered articulately with great intelligence.
"Mmm," I said as non-commitally as I could muster.
"You know, I saw you on Rapa Nui," continued the woman.
She then proceeded to tell me about how I'd missed all the best restaurants on Rapa Nui and how I'd really messed up.
"Well, I guess I just suck then."
I wasn't off to the best start in the playing-well-with-others department.
"Beni," I said as I piled my backpack into his little car for the lift to the freighter port.
"Is this going to suck?"
Oh no, I thought. It does suck.
But then, he dropped me off at the ship, and I felt a thrill as I climbed the narrow stairs to board. I was back on a freighter!
I had a top bunk in the 10-room dorm (the other dorm has eight berths), which was cozy. Meaning small. I opened up my locker—uh-oh, the latch didn't stick—and then closed it to let a French woman by as she headed from the toilets to her own locker. I turned around to open the drawer under the bunks and then closed it as a French doctor who lives in Moorea ducked by to pick up his socks.
"Mmmm," I said again. I'm notoriously bad at sharing space after having lived alone for umpteen years, aside from a few co-habiting on-and-off years first with Turbo the Aussie and later with Herr Marlstupidhead.
The ship's seven short bursts followed by one long went off, and we all grabbed our life jackets and headed up to the pool deck muster point for our "abandon ship" drill.
Can you hack it, I asked myself.
I didn't know the answer to that.