Sunday, April 6, 2008

The End of the Trail

The Sun Setting on Our Adventure

The Tahiti Hibiscus

On our final day in Tahiti we needed to check out of the hotel at 11 a.m. But our flight did not leave until 10:00 p.m. So that we could enjoy another day on this beautiful island we stored all of our luggage at the hotel, kept our swimsuits on, and then spent the day just laying around the pool and enjoying the views of the lagoon. Our visit had lucky weather, as this is the rainy season in Tahiti, but we had no rain except for just a few drops on the final afternoon.

We were concerned about the number of teenagers who seemed to be spending all day practicing their boogie board skills on the beach. It was a relief to learn that the week was spring break in Tahiti and not just a very bad truancy problem. At 6:30 p.m. we collected our bags, retrieved our travel clothes and changed in the hotel restrooms. It worked out just fine. The airport processing went smoothly and we ended up with a plane only half full, so we each had two seats for the overnight flight to Los Angeles. Air Tahiti Nui provided a flawless flight and an early arrival.

In order to work out the jet lag, we stayed overnight in a L.A. airport area hotel, and then flew on to Seattle and Wenatchee the next day. You certainly would not want to return home after an eight week vacation felling tired!. In a couple of weeks I will publish an article on what we considered the best ten things about the trip to New Zealand. Check back in for that.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Around the Island

Papeete from the hill above our lagoon

The Waterfall - Just after the Elvis serenade

Fishing in the river

Every trip needs a really tacky moment!

To get a feel for the whole island, we arranged for a half day tour on the morning of our second full day. Our guide was William who picked us up along with a young French couple and then drove through town and picked up some Japanese newlyweds at the Intercontinental. It was a very hot day so the good news was that the van was air-conditioned. The tour was to go (and did) completely around the island. We did not however go on to Tahiti Iti (little Tahiti), but stuck to Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti). The whole island is somewhat shaped like a ping-pong paddle and Tahiti Iti (also called the peninsula) would be the handle of the paddle.

There are no paved roads across the island, only on the shoreline around it. The interior has high mountains and is very rugged with dense vegetation. On our drive counter-clockwise we first stopped at the proverbial guide type place called the Lagoonarium. For an extra fee (and I suspect a guide kickback) we had the pleasure of going into the jaws of the shark and proceeded underwater to look at the mid-size sharks and fish. I should have brought a book and opted out. Our next stop was at the Paul Gauguin Museum on the south end of the island. The museum traced the history of Gauguin and was interesting along with copies of many of his paintings and a few artifacts. Why was it located there you ask? Because the land was cheaper than in Papeete, plus the mosquitoes are thrown in for free. Gauguin died in the Marquesas in 1903 at age 53. A very troubled man it seemed.

Our last two stops around the island were at the very spectacular waterfall on the northeast side, followed by an ocean blow hole. During the longest stretch of the trip where there were no interesting stops, William serenaded us with Elvis songs. That was a first on any tour in our experience.

Quirky Living Note: Back at the Radisson for the afternoon, I had the most wonderful French experience. How about escargot? French wine? Non! It was finding topless ladies around the pool. Now I maybe will get to like just lying around and relaxing more.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Life on Tahiti

According to local gossip Bill's little boat

On the black beach

Papeete Market

Radisson pool

We awoke in a real paradise. The Radisson is a wonderful resort nestled into its own lagoon about 6 miles northeast of Papeete. All of the rooms above the first floor overlook the huge infinity pool, or the lagoon. This is a volcanic island, which causes most of the beaches to have black sand. There are a few white and pink beaches around the island, depending on whether there is a coral reef. We started our day with a leisurely walk on the beach followed by a casual breakfast in the open air restaurant overlooking the beach.

We must be in a bit of the off season as there are not a lot of guests around. While lounging and swimming at the pool there did not seem to more than five or six groups at the pool at any one time. On the beach there were always a lot of local kids practicing their surfing. Unlike the Mexican beaches there were no vendors bothering you to purchase jewelry, t-shirts, or blankets. If you like to just lie around the pool or beach, read a book, and gaze at beautiful scenery, this is the place for you.

By the afternoon we had enough sun and water, so arranged to take the hotel excursion into Papeete for three hours. They pay for a taxi to drive you in at 2 p.m. and then pick you up at 5 p.m. We did not find Papeete to be a very big town and we were able to walk the 7 or 8 blocks lengthwise and 5 blocks of depth where most of the commerce (meaning shops) was conducted in about 20 minutes. They have a fruit, vegetable, and fish market which we visited although I think most of the action must have been in the morning. For the tourist downtown offers a huge supply of Tahiti black pearls and gorgeous cotton cloth.

We had a late lunch/early dinner on the waterfront harbor street. There was a lot of shipping and a few private yachts in the harbor, including a magnificent large yacht (with a helicopter on the back deck) which we were advised belonged to Bill & Melinda Gates. I don't know, doesn't look big enough to me. I guess they haven’t given away all of their money.

Quirky Living Note: A van driver told me that they do not have a lot of crime on the island, only about two murders a year. However, the French government wants to increase the number of gendarmes. That will obviously increase crime, as there will be more of them looking for it! They do, however, have a serious graffiti problem which is seriously spoiling the built up areas of the island.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia Flag

The flight from Auckland is an easy one, lasting just five hours. Air Tahiti Nui seems to be a very efficiently run airline. They have a lot of nice local touches, such as giving small orchids to all of the passengers, just to get you in the mood of landing in Papeete, Tahiti. We arrived about 9:45 p.m. You can tell it is a rural island as it was pretty dark when landing at the airport. Kind of like landing in Belize, where after you land, you turn around on the runway, and then taxi back to the terminal. No jetways, just down the ramp and into the non air-conditioned open format terminal.

Arriving in a strange place, without any local money, and no one meeting you is always the most stressful part of any trip. Arriving in Papeete was no exception. As French Polynesia is part of France, anyone with a European Union passport went in to the fast lane. Everybody else was an “other” and so as usual we are the last through immigration. After we collected our bags the prudent thing to do was to get some local cash. The Pacific Islands Franc is 78 to the dollar, so you now have to start thinking in thousands. When I went to the ATM a reasonable choice was to get 20,000 francs, about $250. I thought for awhile that the ATM was rejecting our card, but it was just the guy operating it who is a bit green color blind and the button for accepting the options was green. There should be a law against it.

We then grabbed a cab to the Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti. The Radisson is a bit out of town and I was pretty surprised that the cab was 4500 francs. The cab driver may have been taking a bit of advantage of the rookie visitor. At the hotel we were put in a beautiful two level suite on the fourth and top floor, overlooking the pool and the beach. Arriving at 10 p.m. however can put a few jags in the arrival. The elevator to our floor was not working. Fortunately the bell guys were bringing up the heavy bags, and we thought they might have a coronary. A lot of groaning and wheezing. After checking out our very nice accommodation, I hear a scream. Mary Ann had found a very cute 4 inch lizard on the wall of our bedroom. The bellman took a look at it, said it won’t hurt anything and left. Mary Ann is yelling at me as I write this, that she did not think it was very cute.

To give you a bit of perspective about the French Overseas Territory, it consists of five groups of islands which are The Society Islands (including the Windward Islands and the Leeward islands), The Marquesas, the Austals, the Tuamatus, and the Gambiers. Tahiti is in the Society Islands and is the largest island of French Polynesia. Papeete is the capital city. By the way, I don’t think I have mentioned it before, but anytime I want some good in depth information about a country, I always start with the CIA World Fact Book website about the country, or in this case the French territory. The Fact Book is always organized consistently and provides a lot of good basic data. The site for French Polynesia is:

Quirky Living Note: Once you get into this regular blog publishing routine it is a major crisis when you think your laptop has crashed. One evening we could not get the XZ!*#$ thing to turn on. It was completely blank. It was getting power, so what to do? Well, you hope that it will turn on and work the next day. And voila it did turn on in the morning. We had left it plugged in and Mary Ann, the computer guru, thought it was a battery problem which recharged. Actually it was just a loose electrical cable. But shouldn’t it always work when plugged in to real power? I still don’t understand how electricity works, let alone a computer and the internet.