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Travelogue - 10/31/04                                                                                                                               Links to all Travelogue pages


Tahiti and Moorea

This continuing travelogue is mainly for family & friends who want to find out where I am and what I'm up to. Click to enlarge any of the thumbnail photos in this journal for better viewing. All photos are my own unless otherwise noted.

After visiting around New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island during the first few weeks of October, I set out for New Zealand. Because I was using accumulated flyer miles to pay for the plane ticket and had enough, I treated myself to Business Class. This meant the difference between surviving the ordeal of long flights crammed into a tight coach seat, subsisting on packaged pretzels, or luxuriating in a wide reclining chair with its own multi-channel movie screen while smiling stewardesses brought delicious hot meals and free drinks, not to mention entitling me to the exclusive airport lounges, which provide free food, beverages, comfortable sofas and other amenities. First and Business Class are styles to which I would like to become accustomed when flying long distance. It turns a grind into part of the holiday.

En route to New Zealand I spent a week in Tahiti and Moorea, just because I could. It came about this way. When I booked my flight they routed me through PapeÚte International Airport in Tahiti. I was to land in the evening and fly out again early the next morning to Auckland, with barely enough time to get to a hotel for a half-night's sleep. Well, that seemed kind of dumb to me considering I'd never been to Tahiti and wasn't in any particular rush. So I persuaded the airlines to schedule a 6-day layover for me there. 

Using the Internet before I left New York, I found and pre-booked a pension (pronounced pen-see-own, not pen-shun), budget accommodations for cost-conscious travelers like moi. So, when I landed at PapeÚte around 10 pm (on October 24th, my birthday!), after I forget how many hours and time zones traveling from New York via LA, the pension owner was there to meet me and drive me home. Frederick, a native of France, had been stationed in Tahiti when he was in the army and had decided to stay. Now he has a pretty wife, a happy child, the Pension Te Miti and a lifestyle he considers to be about as good as it gets.

The Pension Te Miti is tucked several hundred meters back from Tahiti's west coast road, in a quiet residential community about 20 minutes drive from the airport and one minute from a palm-fringed beach. Catering mainly to French backpackers and surfers, it's a ramshackle collection of low buildings partitioned into assorted rooms and small dormitories. Each building has a communal kitchen and guests share the bathrooms & showers. 

I had reserved a "small private room," and it was just that and no more. Still, it served the purpose, a place to sleep, and at around $60 a night it was cheap for infamously expensive French Polynesia. Anyway, there were pleasant and sociable common rooms and areas for daytime lounging. For the next few days Pension Te Miti was my home base while I explored the island of Tahiti Nui.

There was no way I was going to sleep late my first day in Polynesia, jet lagged or not. I was up at the crack, reorganizing my pack and quietly checking out my new digs - lush foliage around the yard, a few pecking chickens, a couple of friendly dogs. T-shirt, shorts & flip-flops were about right for the climate and ambiance.

Gradually my fellow travelers began to stir and soon we were all saying bon jour at the communal breakfast. There were a few tourists like myself, a couple of buff surfers and a young family. Everyone was cheerful and friendly and tried out their limited English on me before turning among themselves to chatter in French, which is as Greek to me. It is one of my few regrets in life that I didn't study more foreign languages than Spanish in school.

One Frenchwoman there did speak fair English and, mon dieu!, she was alone. Well, one thing led to another and lovely Isabelle and I spent the day sightseeing together, using the not-too-reliable island bus system to get around. 

First I explored the main city, PapeÚte, which was quaint but crowded, noisy and polluted by heavy traffic belching diesel exhaust fumes. Meanwhile Isabelle went job hunting, it being her intention to live there. We rendezvoused for lunch, then caught a bus to a hiking trail well out of town on the north shore. This we followed to a fine waterfall. 

Just as we were heading back to the road, we met a local fellow on the path who said there was a nicer fall farther up another trail, and he volunteered to lead us there. Off we went through the Tahitian rain forest, following this tattooed, machete-wielding native. The trail ended at a tall, powerful cascade in a picture-postcard setting. Our guide went off to chop bamboo or something and Isabelle and I stripped and dove in for swim, giggling at our happy circumstances. Not a bad beginning to my little Pacific adventure, hey?


The last bus back to town never came. We had to hitchhike in, catching a ride with a Tahitian fisherman who seemed to know everyone on this side of the island. He kept waving and calling out to people along the way. The rest of the time he and Isabelle chattered merrily in French. I smiled and nodded whenever it seemed appropriate. Back in PapeÚte we just barely caught the last bus home to Te Miti. It seems the whole island bus system quits running for the day between 4 and 6 pm and doesn't resume again until the next morning, which struck me as an odd,  limiting schedule for such a large, populated island.


The solution to the awkward bus system was simple. I rented a motor scooter for the duration of my visit. The first thing I did was to circumnavigate Tahiti, which took all of one day. There is only one coastal road around the island and once I was clear of PapeÚte's urban sprawl the traffic thinned out and scenery improved. On one side dense, tropical foliage climbed steeply to the mountainous interior. On the other, the pure blue South Pacific ocean sparkled and occasional, palm-capped islets called motus beckoned from just offshore. I stopped here and there, taking short hikes to points of interest or just lazing for a while in some pretty spot. The road passed through scattered villages where people seemed inclined to smile and wave. Having just come from a month in Manhattan, it was a near psychedelic experience.

The island of Moorea lies within sight of Tahiti and I decided to visit it. I stashed most of my belongings at the pension and with only a light pack drove my motorbike onto one of the ferries that ply daily between Tahiti and its nearest neighbor. 


I found Moorea to be much more laid back than Tahiti, much quieter with a lot less traffic, and I determined to spend a few days there. I found lodgings in a cozy pension on a white sand beach, near a small village that provided the necessities - a grocery store, a couple of cafes, a restaurant, a pub, even a sporadic Internet connection for hire in one of the shops. As I had done on Tahiti, I drove all the way around Moorea, snapping pictures and stretching my legs on short hikes along the way. Here are a few of the photos I took:


After a few lazy days on Moorea I reluctantly returned to Tahiti, but at least I got to spend the last evening with Isabelle before boarding an early morning flight to Auckland, New Zealand.

Next Entry: 12-04-04


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