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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Honeymoon in French Poylinesia -- Tahiti 1.1 - 1.4.08

When planning our itinerary, our travel agent suggested to leave the best for last and fly back home directly from Bora Bora. We took her advise and were supposed to stay in Tahiti first for only one night, then Moorea and Bora Bora. Tahiti was supposed to be just a short layover en route to the other 2 islands, so we really didn't care where we stayed, as long as it was close to the airport. However, Air Tahiti Nui changed their flight route & schedule and messed up our itinerary. We ended up having 2 extra days in Tahiti at the end, and it was too late and complicated to make any changes with the hotel bookings.

We were content with the time we had at Bora Bora. However, we were sad leaving our luxury resort, knowing that what would await us in Tahiti could never top what we experienced in Bora Bora.  I tried to psych myself up thinking "the hotel was rated "Deluxe" in the guidebook, it should be nice. Tahiti has a bigger city, so it would be an easier transition returning New York. There seems to be something worth seeing in Papeete anyway....." However, I couldn't help but thinking that the honeymoon was over once we left Bora Bora.

 We arrived at  the Sheraton Tahiti around 3 p.m. It was a 6 floor building with regular rooms, no more individual villas. The hotel was decorated with probably a dozen Christmas trees, cheesy, I must say. The service was slow and it took a while before our luggage was delivered to our room. It was a regular room with standard amenities. After settling in, we wondered around in the hotel facility. There was a live band playing some American pop music at the bar near the swimming pool. Again, cheesy. We ordered some pasta & pizza at the outdoor cafe as I was flipping through the tour guide book to see how we could kill time for the next two days.

It felt like a major hangover after a night of awesome party: waking up on a rainy Sunday afternoon with ponding headache, and being depressed. Okay, I might exaggerated a little. I didn't have the headache. To be fair, Sheraton Tahiti was an OKAY place. I am sure we would have found it... "pleasant" if we were able to travel according to our original plan and came here first. But now that we had experienced the best  of the best, we were spoiled. We were going through some serious withdrawal symptoms.
We wondered out of the hotel property. The streets were quiet and all the stores were closed because of the holidays. We returned back to our hotel room, and watched some more of the same depressing  International CNN news before we went to bed.......

The next morning Wednesday, 1.2. 2008, We decided to rent a car and check out the island. Our first stop was the capital Papeete. The road in Tahiti was a bit challenging to navigate, and we had a hard time finding the street signs. There were only a few restaurants open and many shops were still closed. On the streets of Papeete, you could see more of the French influence. We past by a few restaurants that looked like they could be in France somewhere. One of the places in Papeete that I was eager to visit  was the Municipal Market. After we ran around in circles and finally found it, I was really disappointed to learn that the market was closed for another 2 days. UGH... I felt like being cheated out of this unique authentic Tahitian experience. Papeete was a busy city in comparison to all the villages we visited at other islands. Walking on the streets, the covered pedestrian walkways and the wild dogs wondering around, had a slight resemblance of the countryside in Taiwan.

We visited some shops and bought a few souvenirs and went to the Tahiti pearl market to see if I could find a good deal on the famous Tahitian Black Pearls. I am not really a jewelry person and only wear accessories on occasions.  It was hard for me to justify  spending a small fortune buying pearls knowing that I would not make the most use out of it.  However, I fell in love with the peacock color pearls when I was window shopping on the other islands, and was seriously thinking about getting one. The Tahiti Pearl Market had more than 150,000 loose pearls and after 30 minutes in the shop, I walked out with a beautiful tiny tear drop shaped peacock color pearl. I was happy. The trip to Tahiti was not a total waste after all.

After visiting downtown Papeete, we continued our circle island road trip. Tahiti was the largest island in French Polynesia and  was comprised of two main island masses, Tahiti-Nui (big Tahiti) and Tahiti-Iti (Little Tahiti). We only circled the Tahiti-Nui portion of the island since Tahiti-Iti did not have a circle island road. We made another stop at the point Venus. It was the first time we saw some decent waves in French Polynesia. There were many surfers riding the waves.  H noticed that the beach had black sand. We had never seen any black sand beaches before and wondered where the black sand came from. (The answer came the next day on our safari tour.) We made a few more stops along the way. When we arrived at "Musée Gauguin" in the afternoon, of course it was closed due to the holiday. We drove to the "Musée de Tahiti et Ses Isles", keeping the last glance of hope. No such luck. OH... COME ON!! Note to ourselves: never come to French Polynesia in December and all other major local holidays in the future.

The road around Tahiti Nui is 114km (72 miles) long, we were back to Papeete before 5 p.m. H wanted to go back to the hotel, but I was not ready to call it a day. I dragged H to park our car on the street and walked around downtown again. We passed by this charming bar called "La Carte" that looked like it could be somewhere in South France. It brewed it's own beer and we could not resist to sit down and order some. We sat on the bar stools observing the locals and tourists alike hanging out in the bar. The copper wear reflected the sunlight and created a warm glare. H and I had big grins on our faces as we drank our beers, looked out to the people and the street. It was a simple moment. But I knew that the simplicity of the moment would last a long time in our memories.

As we walked out of the bar and back to the street, we noticed that there seemed to be some commotions going on in the adjacent parking lot near the harbor. We walked over and found that the "Les Roulottes" I was hoping to try on this trip were just setting up their booths. I was so excited to have found them! No doubt, that was going to be our dinner! It was still early, so we walked over to the piers to watch the sunset as the sun was going down. It was the best sunset we saw on this trip. The color was changing every second. The composition of the sun, sky, clouds, land, ocean, and tanker made the scenery even more interesting. There were people taking strolls over the piers. Right next to the parking lot was a small park, and kids were running around laughing.

We came back to the parking lot. All the food carts were set up and started the grill. The smoke went up in the sky and you could smell the food from far away. There were crepes, plenty of grilled seafood, a whole roasted pork, and some Chinese. The prices were cheap. Average dishes cost $10 to $15.  As the sky got darker, couples, young parents pushing the strollers with babies, elders with their grandchildren, and a few tourists with curious expressions slowly gathered. We decided on a Les Roulotte with Hong Kong cuisine, sat on the table and ordered fried rice and lo main. There were probably hundreds of birds hiding in the branches of this huge tree in the parking lot, that the sound of birds chirping was loud enough for you to raise your voice when having a conversation. People walked by, some sat down at our booth. Sitting at the outdoor table, spraying insect repellent against mosquito bites, and having lo main and fried rice that tasted the same as any Chinese restaurants in New York Chinatown, we were happy and satisfied. This was a great day after all.

Thursday 1. 3. 08 was the last day of our stay in Tahiti. Our flight back to New York departed at 8:25 p.m. so we pretty much had another day in Tahiti. We booked a half day 4x4 safari expedition to see the inland, since we had not done it on the other two islands, and there seemed to be more to see in Tahiti.  We were picked by a Safari-Geep along with 2 other passengers. The Geep took us through the Papenoo river. We saw plenty of waterfalls, the water reserve, and some amazing tropical vegetation. The local families were swimming in the river and setting up picnics and barbecues. We joined the locals for a swim in the river. It brought back memories of all the camping trips that I took with my family when I was little. At the turning point we got out of the Geep. The tour guide pointed at all the surrounding mountains and told us that we were standing in the center of the crater that created Tahiti 3.5 million years ago. There had not been any volcanic activity ever since but H was feeling a bit nervous. The tour guide explained to us that the black sand on the beach was from the volcano here and being washed down by the river. We made many stops on our trip and the tour guide talked about Tahiti's history, geography, it's culture, and the political climate. We definitely finished the tour with a better understanding of Tahiti and it's people.
We were back in the hotel in the early afternoon. For the next few hours, we finally hit the hotel swimming pool. Our luggage was packed, the room was checked-out, more than 1000 pictures were taken,  and less than $8 of local money was left. It was a perfect honeymoon and we were ready to go home.

As we were laying on the beach chair eating ice cream we ordered from the bar with the last $8 we had, I asked H, "So.... where are we going next for vacation?"

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