You can also take a day's trek up from Opunohu Bay. We climbed into the hills along a road that led past vanilla, coffee and banana plantations, then entered the gloom of the rain forest, descending under tall "canoe" trees, with roots called buttresses, to the excavated ruins of a 16th century village. We ate lunch by a stream, then ascended and crossed ferny upland meadows where curious flowers display both purple and golden blossoms in the same cluster, and down again into cow pastures to visit a murky sulphur spring that is supposed to make you young again.
Another feature of the Club M�diterran�e is extensive, guided sightseeing tours. A seven-day tour from Moorea, for example, includes three islands: first Tahaa, where you stay in a sort of sub-village the club has erected, next Bora-Bora, spending the night at the elegant Bora-Bora Hotel, where such diverse personalities as Eddie Arcaro and No�l Coward have sojourned. I passed up the first two stops and joined the 12 excursionists at the end of their stay in Bora-Bora. We then flew to Rangiroa, where the Bermuda flying boat landed in the lagoon and launches decorated with palm fronds took us ashore.
Rangiroa, 300 miles northeast of Tahiti, is the largest atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago. It is shaped rather like a running track, the track being a series of fiat, narrow islets, the infield a lagoon 45 miles in circumference and 15 miles across at its greatest width. We docked at the village of Tiputa (pop. 200), and half the town was gathered at the quay to meet and inspect us. They greeted us with music and singing, dances and many kisses; necklaces made up of little shells were placed about our necks. Then we all linked arms—man-woman-man-woman and so forth as wide as the road—and marched under a ceremonial arch behind a guitar band to town. Children raced ahead on the road and along the low coral walls like beneficent scouts. We received the same welcome at Avatoru, a village on a neighboring islet, when we went there for lunch in the club's motor ketch Eve several days later. Avatoru is where Jeanette, the notorious transvestite, cooked and helped serve the fish we speared in the forenoon. Between courses we twisted while the band played and sang, "Oh, yes, that's my baby...." Is there anywhere in the world you cannot find the twist, the housefly and Coca-Cola?
In the shaving mirror I can see, behind my familiar portrait, a corner of a pigpen, a breadfruit tree, the lagoon of Rangiroa. I am standing in what the lady who makes the beds—and collects whatever eggs the hens have laid on the flowered chintz spreads—told me was la salle de bain. In Tiputa we lived in the natives' houses; the occupants apparently double up with friends or relatives. La salle de bain is in the backyard and has corrugated iron walls that come up to my waist, a gravel floor and a curtained door. In one of its corners is a drum that the landlord fills with rainwater. There are, in addition, a plastic pitcher and a galvanized washtub in which you can, indeed, take a bath. I bathe at evening. Sitting in the water, which has been agreeably heated by the sun, I look up and see only the rapidly darkening sky, hear, from the neighboring house, a piano concerto that is being broadcast by Tahiti's only radio station and am further enisled. Rangiroa means big sky.
The mirror belongs to Charlie, a very gentil membre, who is called, to his annoyance, Il Commendatore. "Just call me Charlie," he pleads. Charlie owns a snack bar in the bus station in Inverness, Scotland. He told me his father had come to England from Italy with several companions; they went from door to door selling stucco figurines of Gladstone and Queen Victoria. Charlie said he was a motorcycle racer before going into the catering trade—fish and chips. He contends that the fish we eat here—it is generally served raw, first marinated in lemon juice, then soaked in coconut milk—cannot match "a nice piece of haddock." He did enjoy, however, the purple slate-pencil sea urchins and the Polynesian turbines, a sort of snail, which we uprooted from the vast and desolate reef on the Pacific coast of the islet one afternoon. We were taken there by Serge Arnoux, the G.O. on Tiputa. One of Serge's grandparents was a Tahitian; he has sailed around the world in a small boat and crossed New Guinea, jungle and mountain snow, on foot.
The urchins live on the reddish, eroded reef nearly under the surf. They seek pits and pocks in which to dwell, and it is impossible to pull them free from these sanctuaries. You can harvest only those which are imperceptibly wandering across the nearly level reef; it is a matter of running between the breakers to seize them. In order to eat one, you grab it by the spines and smash it against a coral outcropping until you can extract the orange coral, or ovaries, which is very sweet. The spines, when they have dried in the sun, turn lavender in color, the shade of ink on old letters written a long time ago by old and genteel ladies. Eating turbines is just a matter of battering their shells apart. You knock a larger turbine against a smaller turbine, then consume the entire animal. You are left with its pale, smooth, round door, or cat's eye. On the reef, too, Serge showed us the poetic and poisonous scorpion fish.
When it becomes dark, Charlie and I walk to ToToma's Bar (totoma means, prosaically, cucumber). We pass the field where once a week some of the Tiputan men hold a competition. They hurl javelins at a coconut set on a high pole. They fling them underhand; the javelins look like needlefish swimming in the air. The fellow who keeps score clips his ballpoint to his floral couronne. It is a very difficult sport. They made us try our hand at it before an assemblage consisting of the entire village. We were, at any rate, a great source of amusement.
Charlie walks on my left side so he can listen to what I say with his better ear. He will, no doubt, tell me, roundabout where the grass road becomes hard dirt: "You cannot have a paradise without a little bit of hell." On Moorea, Charlie's hell was the mosquitoes; he is very fair. In Omoo, Melville relates the manner in which the mosquitoes were introduced:
"Some years previous, a whaling captain, touching at an adjoining bay, got into difficulty with its inhabitants, and at last carried his complaint before one of the native tribunals; but receiving no satisfaction, and deeming himself aggrieved, he resolved upon taking signal revenge. One night, he towed a rotten old water-cask ashore, and left it in a neglected Taro patch, where the ground was warm and moist. Hence the musquitoes.
"I tried my best to learn the name of this man: and hereby do what I can to hand it down to posterity. It was Coleman—Nathan Coleman. The ship belonged to Nantucket.