Tahiti: Knives Out

Just a short one today, as I’m currently stealing wifi from a nearby bar. I’m afraid it’s not a particularly upbeat one either. Right now I’m not interested in talking about specific experiences I’ve had. Rather, I have some thoughts I feel I need to air. I’ll do a proper post tomorrow.

Instead of taking the usual steps of coming up with a name relating to my day’s experiences for the blog post, then linking it in later, I’m referring to it straight off the bat this time; I’m getting the knives out for this island. I attempted to take it a little easy last time out for fear of being hasty as I perhaps was about Easter Island, which turned out to be pretty much perfect. After five days, however, I can pretty categorically state that Tahiti is not somewhere I would ever recommend visiting. Sorry all.

Perhaps if you’re a Russian oil baron who doesn’t mind pissing money into the wind from your passing yacht to buy out every supermarket’s unnervingly huge collection of foie-gras, or if you’re a mid-manic-episode-60-year-old who was awarded an abhorrently large cash settlement in your recent divorce hearings, you might like this confused, confusing little rock out in the Pacific Ocean, but I know none of you, reading this, fit into either of those categories (Hi Roman). This is an island of opulence and ostentation; of rich white Americans and French people coming over and acting like it’s their playground.

The only town of any note is Pape’ete, right? Well as I’ve already made clear in my last post, it’s hideous, yet it is a bustling centre of commerce and business, so I guess it has to be there, and people can just ignore it. However, outside of Pape’ete you have fairly poor people, living in huts made of corrugated metal. Their infrastructure is poor and not particularly inviting. So tell me, where do the foreigners go? The goddamn Hotel Intercontinental. How authentic, how truly wonderful a show of attempting to experience other cultures you’re showing by locking yourself away in a gated alcove of fake beaches and driving rented SUVs with tinted windows.

However you know what is really infuriating? Tahitians seem happy to play along with this pretense. When I arrived, I assumed I’d see a bunch of Polynesian culture out and about. Food, drinks, shows etc., but do you know where the only traditional dance I saw was held? At the Hotel Intercontinental! It was absolutely bizarre to see this amazing dance, hundreds and hundreds of years old, being performed by natives to groups of old white French onlookers, glasses of imported vintage Bordeaux in hand, who would throw them a casual semi-appreciative applause every few minutes. I’m not blaming anyone for this particular dynamic, and I’m sure it’s far less harmful than it seemed from my perspective, but it all just seemed so uncomfortably colonial.

And that is crux of what is both positive and negative about modern life on Tahiti; colonialism. The French, like the British and Spanish had also done all over the globe by the time Tahiti was occupied, absolutely gutted this island of any atmosphere it once had. The rest of French Polynesia may be an authentic, exotic land of real Polynesian spirit, but the contempt they showed to this island by bulldozing everything and replacing it with concrete is just so, so sad. The French gave this place an infrastructure, and gave it millions in tourism money, but it has simply become France-sur-mer; a messy, fake enclave of that country, populated by unhappy Parisians, smelling of pollution and importing enough pointless pretentious French bullshit to create enough of a carbon footprint to stamp out the f*cking sun.

Although you know what? This island wouldn’t be such a grave disappointment if it didn’t act like it’s the ultimate holiday destination. This is not a tropical island paradise, as I’ve said a million times, yet the Tahitian tourism board is the greatest conman in the history of vacations. We all think of it as that remote, sunset-walks-in-the-sand, romanticised bullshit, yet when you get here, it just serves up one big disappointment after the other. I know I’m not the only one, either; almost every other traveler I’ve met so far has shared my opinion to some extent, ranging from ‘Yeah it’s not quite what I expected’ to ‘Man I really need to get out of this place’.

There was a moment when this island really would have been paradise. Now it just sits as a disfigured monument to foreign interference.