Monday, 7 January
I’ve left a lot of places, and it’s always emotional. I’ve felt relief, excitement, guilt… but it’s been a while since leaving has made me sad.
I thought I’d be more excited by my sense of purpose, but sadness is more what I feel right now, leaving behind people who’ve become my family. I don’t think that’s too strong a word: family.
A huge flock of gulls followed the ferry while we crossed the Bay of Plenty. I’d been hoping for a whale sighting, like when I first went to Vaanha, but the gulls were interesting, if noisy.
I’m headed out to a pretty small village. After doing most of my work in urban environments for the last several years, I hope Patara’s going to feel like going home. Small towns have a lot in common, wherever you go. Just like people.
From the ferry landing, I took a train south, but the train doesn’t go all the way to Patara; it stops in Sharpton. When I asked a taxi driver to take me on to Patara, he looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe this was why.
A woman seeming to be around my age walks past me like I’m not there. The little girl with her glances at me briefly, but the look she shoots her mother just after makes it clear she wasn’t supposed to. I sigh; this is the sixth person to act like I’m nonexistent. I can’t help contrasting this with my first day in Vaanha, which was considerably warmer and more productive. My ability to participate in the pōwhiri in Vaanha got me some instant street cred, but so far all I’ve been able to do here is show off my ability to get sunburned in a short amount of time. I figure patience is still my best course of action, so I continue to sit outside the marae and hope I was correct in assuming that Ariki Tangaroa won’t ignore me until sunset. Maybe he’s not feeling well, or some kind of emergency is going on, maybe they weren’t expecting me today because my paperwork got screwed up, maybe this was their way of being polite so that I wouldn’t have to exert myself after the long journey from Auckland. I generally find it best to give people the benefit of the doubt. Especially new people.
But maybe they just don’t much like pākehā.
I wander for a few blocks after I’ve been waiting for about three hours, trying not to feel frustrated. On the plus side, I discover a modest hostel, which at least gives me an option if Ariki Tangaroa does decide to overlook me all day. A herd of elementary-aged boys charges past me on my way back to the marae, all wearing flax skirts, geometrically-patterned piupiu, and hooting and hollering. It’s like stepping into a time warp – or maybe a tourist trap, but I hadn’t learned that was a major activity at Patara.
A deep voice calls out in te reo Māori and the boys instantly obey, falling silently into two neat parallel lines. The man striding down the lane positively emanates authority and confidence – this concept I’ve lately come to know as “mana” – and it is clear why the boys respect him. He is dressed like they are: bare chested, sporting the traditional piupiu, which, in his case, shows off both his powerful build and an impressively intricate tattoo that covers his left pectoral and arm to the spot where his biceps ends.
My first instinct is that this must be Ariki Tangaroa, before I remember the ariki is pushing eighty. This man is probably Tangaroa’s son, or even grandson.
He glances in my direction as he passes, and I realize I am probably staring. (In my defense, it would be hard not to!) I plaster a friendly smile on my face, ready to introduce myself. But he lifts a single, disdainful eyebrow at me and walks on without any other acknowledgement.
I decide to take this as progress, however, given that he is the first adult to actually do anything other than pretend I am invisible. To encourage these cheerful thoughts, I text Jason once I get back to my pile of bags near the marae. Nothing elaborate. “Arrived safely.” I leave out any doubts I might be experiencing about coming to Patara.
I spend almost another hour waiting alone outside the marae before deciding I’m too much of a hot mess to greet Ariki Tangaroa even if he did decide to let me in. So I sling my bags across my shoulders and troop back to the hostel.
“Tēnā koe, Stranger,” a middle-aged Maori woman greets me when I darken the door. “Need a room? We’ve got good rates, breakfast included. Patara has great hiking and beaches….”
“Yes, I’d like a room.”
“Just the one night?”
“For now, that would be great,” I agree. She hands me a form to fill out and introduces herself as Makareta.
It’s not the most promising start, but I remind myself why I’m here. On the bright side, Makareta is right – Patara is beautifully situated.