Sunday, February 24, 2002

French Polynesia


Bonjour friends and family!

Dan's take:

I think it is accurate to say that Sarah and I have both enjoyed our stay in French Polynesia (Tahiti is not a country, only one of many islands that make up French Polynesia). We in fact, only spent a single day in Tahiti, while preferring to stay on the nearby island of Moorea (French Polynesia consists of several groups of islands, such as the Marquesas, Tuamotos, and Society Islands - both Tahiti and Moorea are a part of the Society Islands, which are a group of islands that are part of the greater French Polynesia. (Complex, eh?). Moorea is a 28 dollar, 10 minute flight, or an $8, 28 minute ferry-ride from Tahiti. We opted to experience both. With a 130AM arrival time from NZ, it was far more convenient (and less expensive) to spend the morning hours in the airports' air-conditioned information office, than to get a very expensive hotel room. We arranged a flight to Moorea at 8AM and we're in awe by 810AM. The blazing sunrise illuminated the black volcanic cliffs, which protruded through the dense tropical foliage below. Our entire shuttle ride, meandering around the mountains and coral spotted bays, left us uttering single syllable phrases...ohh, ahh, wow, whoah. Not that our previous conversations, earlier that morning amounted to much more, with 43 minutes of sleep between us.

Upon meeting the long term residents (people who stayed there for more than three weeks) of our hostel, we noticed a pattern emerging. One individual whittled Tahitian women in traditional poses under the palm tree the entire day. One practiced his recently acquired didgeridoo, an aboriginal, Australian giant wooden kazoo-like instrument. Yet another honed his guitar skills while intermittently practicing juggling. Thus, Sarah took up sunbathing. She was playing it safe, using Tahitian sunblock...vanilla smelling coconut oil (not the highest SPF). I, being without a surfboard, or available rentals, struggled to find my own hobby. I began practicing enchanting spells and general basic wizardry. Yes, I've been potted - no, not the wacky weed. We've read 3 out of the 4 Harry Potter books in the last 3 weeks, and I am hoping to take my O.W.L.S. for all those other 'pot' heads out there. Yes, we have managed to finally relax, although we have also found time to exercise. One day, we thought it would be a great idea to rent bicycles, until about 10 minutes into our trip. It was scorching HOT! My shirt was soaked in seconds, and Sarahs' face was bright red. We wanted to ride to Titiroa Marae and Belvedere lookout, which provides a view of Mt.Roti and Oponohu and Cook's bay. I specifically asked the bikeshop, 'Is the road very steep?' 'No, no, no', with the wave of the hand we were off. The landscape was dazzling, but four hours later, Sarah was nearly in tears, and I was speaking optimistically ('Just think how much fun it's going to be on the way down!), while cursing privately. Ascending the summit, we did not pass a single bicyclist or pedestrian, and noticed that only rental cars or 4X4 exploring tours had reached the top. Needless to say, the view was worth it, and the ride down would have been fun if my breaks hadn't had their own agenda.

Our next brutal excursion - We decided to take a bus to the Afareaitu waterfalls (halfway around the island). This time it was 20 minutes into the trek that we embarrassingly discovered we'd left our water behind. Of course, we were on the trail at high noon - our frequent error. Again, drenched in sweat, we ascended the flora and were treated to a refreshing dip under a chilly, misting waterfall - all to ourselves! Later, we managed to hitch a ride with some agricultural inspectors to the Vaiare ferry dock, from whence we walked to the best beach on the island - Teavaro (where the Sofitel hotel is located). It had blinding white sand, crystal clear bath water, and a view of Tahiti in the distance. We swam, laughing at its beauty. After successfully hitching another ride with a local sculptor, we arrived home just in time to see the sunset - the least expensive, always amazing, daily activity.

The lowlights -

1) Price and its limitations
A coke $2.80
Personal pizza $10
English newspaper $4
Topless beaches - priceless
Yes, with food and drinks so expensive, there aren't many edible choices for those on a "budget". So much so, that for Valentines Day dinner, I took Sarah to a van down by the river, which sells roasted chicken. These "lunch-truck" style vendors were found along the roadside, cooking a variety of meals at half the price of the restaurants, but just as delicious. Sarah was actually thrilled to eat at the chicken van...I knew she would be seeing how we ate there the day before, and it was finger lickin' good.

2) Burrito lacktavitus-
Common among traveling Californians - this crippling ailment can strike at anytime, when one finds themselves too far from a fat burrito. Consisting of detailed delusions of guacamole and sourcream symptoms. These symptoms can effect those on short East coast vacations and most certainly on long term nomadic voyages. Ours hit just shy of a month. Sure, we discussed this forseeable moment in the car on the way to LAX, but little did we know how bad it could get. Those who are near to La Posta, Pancho Villa, Balazo, Cancun, Taco Surf, or any taqueria, please enjoy one for us, and send photos!

3) 9PM to 6AM - Dreadful hours.
With no breeze, no fan, no mosquito nets, and paper thin walls, sleeping was not an option. It was almost simple to ignore the intermittent snoring from the other rooms compared with the stifling heat. I might as well have worn my swim trunks to bed. In between cold showers, we would read and lay as still as we could, or hunt the evil bloodsuckers to no avail. Sometimes, we would just cheer the Gecko Olympics that were taking place over our heads on the ceiling, chasing all of those nasty little critters. It was all fun and games until one of the participants pooped with glee. Now, what was fun became scary.

4) The hindrances of not knowing french.
No offence to our dear french friends, but we did feel less than welcome due to our lack of language skills. We tried to speak a handful of french words and show humility, but nonetheless, suffered a certain rudeness from the women at our hostel and some restaurant staff. This is not universal, but it did make a few transactions very uncomfortable.

Despite any cons to the experience, we were impressed with the beauty of Moorea - the majestic mountains, the turquoise waters, the Polynesian lifestyle, and the baguette sandwiches:).

We hope all of you are well. We are working on posting more photos. Please visit http://www.pbase.com/dgsc/frenchp for an update.

much love, Dan and Sarah

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