Saturday, December 24, 2011

Journey's End

"Come to the bar tonight." Earlier I'd promised our hakka-dancing, part-Vanuatuan waiter  that I'd dance with him tonight, but I'd thought he meant at dinner, when the dance class and ukelele classes performed their final routine.

"Uh, bar?" I didn't want to go to a bar. I wanted to pack.

"Sure, come to the bar."

"mumblestall no?"

"Well, if you come to the bar then, I will see you there."

Carol, Walter, and Vern had actually saved me a seat tonight. Our good fortune to accidentally sit down together on the first night had become an occasional pattern, and I was so not complaining. We ate our last meal—and my final vegetarian one. I'd given up trying to explain what I can and can't eat early on the trip (I can't eat any seafood or fish) and just said "vegetarian." I had all kinds of veggies, and sometimes the cook would have made me something special, like a stuffed pepper or an omelette. Other times, I'd get what the others got, but without the main dish. The food was decent on the Aranui. The desserts were outstanding. Breakfast was pretty mundane, and we ran out of yogurt early.

Packing in a tiny room filled with ten people was pretty silly, but we'd all cooperated well in the dorm, and I think this group, dense living actually enhanced my Aranui experience. How else would I have all these French relatives for a short time? And there was nowhere to retreat from the masses, so I'd been forced to socialize.

In the morning, we all left our luggage in the center of the big dorm room (oddly, this big room has only 8 berths while the small room crams in 10), and headed to breakfast. I was looking forward to seeing my little travel coffee press again in Tahiti—I'd stumbled over a store in Tasmania that still had the old kind I'd used a decade ago, the kind that aren't even made anymore, and I'd bought five of the remaining seven in stock. Two for me, two for my mother, and one for Amanda, who is as hooked on decent coffee as I am.

The ship slipped into Papeete under a mostly clear sky. A rainbow showed itself for just a moment, and then we docked. I dropped off my key and followed the others down the stairs off the ship. Beni would be along in a minute to pick up the Fare Suisse guests. I waited for the second run with Judy and Neil, who I'd ridden with on the way in. They were hilarious and adventurous people, a retired couple who sailed across the Atlantic and once had a farm. Judy and I both had early on confessed our New Yorker addictions to each other.

My room back at Fare Suisse was heaven-sent after the tiny space allocated to me in the dorms. I spent the day wrestling my awkward wooden handicraft into wrapping and posting—bubble wrap isn't easy to find here, but Tourist Information* helped me track some down. And at night, I went down to the food trucks where a dozen other Aranui passengers were milling about. I found Vern and we walked out to the water's edge just in time for the sunset.

That was it, then. Flights out started tonight. I hadn't gotten one—mine was on Christmas day.

Tony came running up, breathlessly.

"Tony, you missed the sunset!"

"No, I was right over there. I ran four blocks to get here in time."

We hadn't had a decent sunset the whole time we'd been at sea. But today's was lovely, as the sun set towards Moorea, lighting up the container terminal.

*If you ever need bubble wrap in Papeete, it's at a store called Hyper Brico on Av. Prince Hinoi near Hotel Tahiti Nui, and also at Carrefour.

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