National Geographic : 1962 Jul
National Geographic, July, 1962 in 1831: "0 my friend! To what estate has my country fallen! 0 Tahiti! Aue! aue! aue!" There is really only one road on Tahiti. It encircles the main part of the island and extends arms like clasping pincers part way round both sides of the smaller peninsula. It runs for 75 miles, a leisurely half-day drive, around Tahiti Nui, Big Tahiti. It is best to start west-counterclockwise-from Papeete in the morning, in order not to have the sun in your eyes going or returning (map, page 7). Whole Island Takes to Wheels I drove a French-made station wagon, but most of the traffic was two-wheeled. There were girls on bicycles, girls on Solexes-bi cycles with small one-cylinder motors at tached to the front wheel-girls on Vespas. Bikes, motorcars, pedestrians, and trucks tangle in the square before the cathedral. Nowadays nearly everyone in Papeete seems to be motorized, as the French put it. Motorbicycles and motor scooters snarl up and down the waterfront, and there are even parking problems. By the time I left Tahiti, there were 3,000 cars circulating in the streets of Papeete and on the single circumferential road, and more than 14,000 bicycles and motor driven two-wheeled vehicles. This on an is- land with 100 miles of road. All Papeete closes shop from 11:30 until 2 in the afternoon, and at noon the homeward-bound traffic comes to a boil. The great British racing driver Stirling Moss visited Tahiti during my stay. A reporter for the island's little lithographed news sheet asked him, "What do you consider your great est achievement, the one that has given you most emotion, of your career as an Ace of the Steering Wheel?" Replied Moss, "To have traversed Papeete on a Vespa at the stroke of noon at six miles an hour." As you drive west, you have the sea on your right hand. Beyond the smoking reef the out line of Moorea rises, blue in the soft morning light, gray and unsubstantial in the heat of the day, and outlined in fiery gold against the caldron of the setting sun. Only about one-eighth the size of Tahiti, the island has almost no roads, and only a half dozen Jeeps and trucks. Its somnolent, tranquil life of fishing and copra and vanilla growing is like the Tahiti of 30 years ago (pages 37 and 47). As I drove, I passed jitneys jammed to the gunwales with laughing men and women, pigs, pandanus thatch, strings of fish, bales, bunches of breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, Saturday night at the Bar Lafayette: "Sucking the ... fish & repeatedly dip ping it in the sause," wrote a Bounty mu tineer of a Tahitian diner. In like manner, this man at a wedding feast eats raw fish marinated in lime juice and coconut milk.