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mercredi 30 octobre 2013

The trucks of Polynesia

A true marvel of public transit

Fated to disappear, the “trucks” of Polynesia remain nevertheless one of the best ways to visit the islands with the Polynesians.

First of all, it should be noted that the Polynesian “truck” is neither the English lorry nor the American truck. This term refers to a very specific means of public transport in Polynesia.

In the 50s, a Citroën truck in Moorea
The democratization of the car really started in Tahiti only in the late 1990s, with an explosion between 2000 and 2010. Until then, and even today in the other islands of French Polynesia, the taxis were rare and expensive; there was no alternative as walking, cycling or public transport by trucks.

A truck: what is it?
If the formula has known a phenomenal success in French Polynesia, it’s nevertheless quite simple: take the chassis, the cab and the engine of a small 3.5 tons truck, confide them to a Polynesian assistant a few weeks and the miracle happens! A magnificent wooden cabin painted with the colors of your choice occupies now the whole length of your frame, overflowing widely beyond the rear axle, allowing to welcoming up to 40 persons. Curiously, it’s always decorated, on its sides, with ailerons reminding strangely the back wings of the Simca Chambord and the Versailles, at the end of the fifties. The roof rack covers the whole surface of the truck roof, enabling to transport any sorts of voluminous parcels, from hen coops to bikes…

In 60s, a “truck” at the market of Papeete
To penetrate inside the space devolved to the passengers, two options are available: a door in the rear of the cabin, two others on the right-hand side; the first one on the front to mount and the last one to go down. This cabin is fully glazed on the upper half of its height. In reality, Plexiglas panels, are usually wide open, except during the tropical showers, obviously. The main feature of the interior lies in the seating arrangement. Indeed, the both seats are settled facing along the wall; another, largest, extending in the middle from ahead to back. This laying out, although it goes against all modern safety rules, passengers can face one another. What, you will agree, is much nicer for the conversation!

How to move by “truck”?
Travelers, when you take a truck, be careful to leave by the roadside all that you believe to know about public transport!

Spartan but so friendly “trucks”!
If things have been widely standardized in the urban area of Tahiti, the trucks were not subject to any schedule or any route. And it’s still the case on many islands. The drivers own their vehicle and are their own boss. Therefore, the time of departure and the precise route remain subject to the day mood or even to the moment mood. And it’s the same for halts: the trucks stop at the passengers’ request for let them go up and down. They announce their destination to the driver when they get into, and mostly pay before stepping off. Sometimes, it happens that, to accommodate a passenger, the driver makes a totally unforeseen route.  Sometimes, he stops to talk with a friend or do some shopping. For a long time, many truck drivers are women.

Irreplaceable atmosphere of the trucks of Tahiti
As all buses are fitted out with a sound system, it’s very rare to travel silently today. In the past and still today, when the sound is shut, it’s not rare that one or other passenger makes his ukulele sing, pulling the songs of others travelers. Unfortunately, the boom-blasters, broadcasters of mega-bass, tend to replace these often improvised formations.  

Yet, it’s very rare, travelling by truck, without that a conversation agrees with other passengers.

The truck, ideal for the discovery
While in Tahiti, they are gradually replaced by huge modern air-conditioned machines that clog the roads, they stop at the official stops and are expected to respect schedules, there is still a lot of trucks in service, in particular outside the city of Papeete. If you are not hurry and accept of changing truck at least once, you can do alone, a tour of the island full of magic and surprises.

A truck near its modern substitute
On the other hand, various operators regularly organize “truck island tours” with a small traditional band and carousing on board, stops in diverse cultural, historical or archaeological sites and, naturally, a long break at the edge of the lagoon, to savor a good ma’a Tahiti (traditional Polynesian meal).

Finally, it’s good to know that the price of a truck ticket remains still very modest: 150 CFP (about €1.26) for a journey of about ten kilometers in urban areas. You still have to know that outside Tahiti and Moorea, the services of truck are extremely random. But they exist (resist) in the most of the islands of the Society Archipelago.

The trucks condemned by the modernization
This means of transport, so friendly and so special, however, is destined to completely disappear in the next few years. “Progress”  continues, the trucks are gradually replaced by ultramodern buses, with tinted windows, conditioned air, equipped with safety belts in all seats aligned facing the front and carrying more than 60 passengers. Beyond the social consequences of these changes imposed without consultation by the government at the early 2000s, it’s one of particular charming and original aspects of the Polynesia which is going to disappear.

Another declension of the concept of the truck
However, today still, almost all of the school transport are carried by trucks. It’s the same for the most of the sport and cultural associations, going to some event. Finally, certain local operators fight against the public authorities to preserve the possibility of offering this only pleasure to their customers.  Successfully, for now…

The last trucks, narrated by Lili Oop on the TV broadcast: Ta’ata
Although, another time, this way of transport will be terribly lacking in the landscape and the everyday life of Polynesians who are, as me, very attached.

An article of  Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

1 commentaire :

  1. Julien & Monak,
    Thank you for that!
    Bill Hedman (Krainer/Brillant)


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