A Tahiti Tourism brochure tells us that Papeete means “a basket of water”. The name combines the Tahitian word for fresh water, “pape”, and “’ete”, the basket in which Queen Pomare carried water.
Now the center of politics and commerce in French Polynesia, Papeete was founded in 1818 by the British missionary, William Crook. With a harbour suitable for shipping, Papeete was a lure for the French. In 1842 French Admiral Armand Joseph Bruat declared it a base for the French protectorate.
With a population of less than 30,000 in 2009, Papeete still manages to feel like the bustling port city it is. Along with that, of course, comes a certain amount of grunge. We weren’t much bothered by that, not with the friendly greeting from some local musicians and the gift of a fragrant flower to tuck behind my left ear. (Right ear means you’re available. Left ear means you’re taken.)
We’d hoped to catch a public bus and travel around the island, but the tourist bureau strongly discouraged that. Buses travel on a whim rather than a schedule. They don’t move until they are full enough to justify the trip. Our time on Tahiti was limited so we decided to explore on foot.
The first place I wanted to head was the Public Marketplace. I never tire of wandering among the stalls, checking out the fruits and vegetables, watching the vendors and the customers. This one is big, with produce, food stalls, and bric-à-brac downstairs, textiles and crafts upstairs (as well as on the sidewalk around the market hall).
We spent quite a while talking with one of the vendors, the woman in the photo below. She gave us a sample of a large, long, white radish. When I asked how she liked to eat it, she gave me a recipe. No quantities, but it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t require precise amounts.
Here’s what she told me, in French easy enough for me to understand: Cut up some fish fillets and soak them in salt water (preferably sea water) for a few minutes. She particularly recommends red tuna. [Tahitians would eat the fish raw.] Chop up some radish, carrot, cucumber, and onion. Chopped tomatoes are optional. Stir in the juice of 2-3 limes. Add some chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Drain the fish and stir it into the vegetables. Just before serving, add coconut milk. Serve plain or with rice.
We spent the entire morning in the market. A morning’s entertainment for the cost of two draft beers (pressions in French) and one cotton top (which Robin picked out for me and is a lovely cobalt blue print).
We went back to the ship to cool down and have a light lunch and then went back out for another walk. The heat was too much for me so we hung out in Bougainville Park, chatted with people who stopped by, took the shorter of the two walking tours through the town, and then headed back to the ship.
I’ll let the photos tell the story.