I graduated from college in May 1970. For the next six months I lived at my parents’ home, filled my nights by carousing at the local strip clubs, and filled my days by reading every book I could find about the South Pacific. (Why my parents permitted me to get away with this combination of debauchery and lethargy has always been a mystery to me.)
In late November 1970 I flew to Tahiti to begin hopscotching across the islands of the Pacific. Here’s what it looked like back then.
1970: When I got to Tahiti, I expected to find Catalina with a French accent. Instead I found Tijuana with yachts. This is the plush Hotel Stuart where my room cost $6 per night and was worth every penny of it. Gauguin stayed here briefly but found it too raucous for his tastes so he quickly moved on to something a bit quieter. I found it just raucous enough.
2019: Sadly, the Hotel Stuart burned down and was demolished sometime in the 1980s. It was replaced by a building that’s one story taller, but very similar in appearance. Everything surrounding it is taller, too.
1970: I could sit on the plush Hotel Stuart’s fourth floor balcony and look across Boulevard Pomare to the waterfront docks where yachts from around the world tied up. What could possibly be more exotic than seeing all their homeport flags fluttering in the wind.
2019: Here’s the same view today. They’ve built bigger docks for bigger yachts, but the saddest change is in the background. That’s not a multistory office building, it’s a cruise ship. This one disgorged 3,500 passengers onto the narrow streets of Papeete.
1970: The roulottes have come a long way in the last 49 years.
1970: A French sailor stationed on Tahiti. Is it any wonder that the French empire collapsed?