Tuesday, May 20, 2008

French Polynesia: Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora

Tuesday was a “travel” day. Eric managed to push our first flight to Auckland from 7 AM to 11 AM, so we had breakfast in our room and then headed for the airport. Apparently, there was a comptroller’s strike in Wellington, but it didn’t seem to delay our flight.

Our flight to Auckland was uneventful.We walked from the domestic to the international terminal. The airport was larger than we’d remembered from our original time there. After that, we just waited for a few hours until our next flight.

The flight to Papeete Tahiti was via Rorotonga in the Cook Islands. The flight to Rorotonga was about four hours. When we arrived in Rorotonga, it was already nighttime, so we didn’t get to see anything.

Eric and I were hoping to move to a different seat from that which we’d had from Auckland to Rorotonga, because we were right next to the smoking section, and it was getting uncomfortable. As it turned out, however, our seemingly empty plan was filled to capacity by a tour of Germans and Italians.

We had a short layover in Rorotonga, and were able to disembark for a little while. I was impressed by the shopkeepers at the airport; even though we’d all arrived at a late hour, they were prepared, and they opened their shops to meet the barrage of tour groups as if they’d never been closed.

Another thing – I like the attire of the Air N.Z. flight attendants, especially a smart, narrow-brimmed blue hat they wore.

We finally arrived in Papeete at about 12:15, and caught a cab to our transit-hotel, L’Ibis de Belle Fleur.It was nothing special, but it was clean, and had an air-conditioner. We’ll be stopping back on our way to Sydney – it shouldn’t be too bad.

The cab driver on the way to our hotel charged us double the normal fare. He took advantage
of the fact that it was late, and that we were unsure of how this country operates yet.

Since then, we’ve learned that although French and Tahitian are the official languages, almost everyone connected with tourists (which seems to be almost everyone) speaks English. I try to speak French when I can, but I’ve found that it’s often easier to make them endure my English than to make them endure my mangled French. As a matter of fact, even when I speak to the Tahitians in French, they often reply in English. I guess they figure it’s easier, too.

On Wednesday we headed for Moorea, a seven-minute flight from Papeete, and checked I at our hotel, the Bali H’ai.

Our accommodations were a simple bungalow over the water. We were lucky enough to get the bungalow (one of three) that was farthest to the right, so it was really quite private.

The next two days were spent sunbathing, and swimming and snorkeling off our private deck. The deck had a “break” in it that allowed you to drive right from it into the lagoon. It also had steps down into the water.

The bungalow was built on a coral reef, and right at the edge of our bungalow the reef ended, and dropped about 30 feet in depth. The reef and the drop-off were a perfect combination for swimming and snorkeling.

Our room had a space cut out of the floor, with a piece of heavy Plexiglas under it, so that we could watch the fish right in our room.

At nearly every meal, Eric and I stuffed bread in our pockets to feed the fish. It was great fun, especially at night, to feed all the beautiful tropical fish. My favorite are these small, bright blue fish that swim in schools of 20 or more. We ate every meal at our hotel restaurant, since Moorea has few other restaurants, and because none of the other restaurants are known for their cuisine. The service was good, if not always friendly, and when we left Moorea I personally thanked the hardworking maitre-de for helping to make our stay so nice.

In the morning, if the lagoon wasn’t too choppy, we took out an outrigger canoe and went exploring the lagoon. I took a couple of tries, but we figured out that having Eric sit in the middle and me in the back was the best combination. After all our bickering preceding this conclusion, we always chuckled when we heard other couples going through the same thing. We only capsized our “vessel” once, and that was just next to our bungalow, so it was good for a laugh.

Our first morning here, we were pleasantly awaked by a school of porpoises making their way out to sea. It was as if the hotel had specially ordered the scene just for us!

The tide was low in the mornings, so it was a good time to watch fish feed from the vantage point of our deck. We were joined nearly every morning by an octopus that we named “Otto.” At rest, with his tentacles tucked underneath him, he was about the size of a large grapefruit. When disturbed (usually by Eric), he’d change color to blend in with the rocks and algae. It’s pretty incredible.

There was another baby octopus around one morning. It was cute – it landed on a fairly large shell, ostensibly to crush it, but quickly moved off it when it was apparent that the shell was far too big for the octopus at their stage!

It was windy, especially at night, and we were hoping that our little bungalow wouldn’t blow away! After a few hours of wind, we realized that our bungalow was pretty sturdy.

One thing about the restaurant I forgot about – there were always dogs, a cat and birds wandering in and out, begging for food. Eric liked a beagle – colored female mutt with sad eyes. I liked a small dog with stubby legs – I think it was the other dog’s son.

Friday was our last full day in Moorea, and we realized we hadn’t left the hotel, so we signed up for a tour of the island.

Our guide’s name was Willie, and he took us to a juice and liquor processing plant in a town not far from our hotel (Pao-Pao). We also went to the summit in Moorea, called “le Belvedere.” It’s a beautiful sight – you can see both major bays and the adjacent mountains. The mountains representing Bali H’ai in the movie South Pacific is on this island, too.

We then stopped at a Tahitian ceremonial temple where the Tahitian people used to conduct human sacrifice, before the arrival of the missionaries, only 190 years ago. After the temple, we stopped at the Moorea Aquarium. It’s a small aquarium, consisting only of several large tanks of local fish-life, but it was very well done.

We were sorry to leave Moorea the next day. It was a pleasant, restful time.

On Saturday (yesterday) we flew from Moorea to Bora Bora. On arriving in Bora Bora, we had to wait and take a ferry shuttle to the village of Vaitape on the main island of Bora Bora. Bora Bora is surrounded by several atolls, and from what I can tell they are largely uninhabited.

We are staying at the hotel Bora Bora, in another over-the-water bungalow. This place is very different fro Bali H’ai, however. Bali H’ai was a simple, albeit very nice place. Hotel Bora Bora is a huge place, and obviously caters to people with money. Our bungalow, unlike most of the other rooms, does not have a number. It’s called Puhi. We have a hostess that’s assigned to all of the area – the water bungalows – named Tina.

Shortly after our arrival, a basket of fruit and wine was delivered to our room, with a handwritten note from Tina, welcoming us to Hotel Bora Bora.

The Hotel is highly organized. When we arrived, there were virgin M’ai Tai’s waiting for us. We received a little booklet describing the hotel services, along with an agenda of the weekly activities. Don’t get me wrong nothing here seems rushed, just highly efficient.

In the afternoon, Eric and I went to pick up snorkeling gear and unbelievably, ran into our old friends from Carlifornia Cary and Rich! Cary and Rich have been boating around the islands for the last two weeks and just happened to be here! It was fun to see someone from back home.
We had Cary and Rich join us at a famous restaurant called “Bloody Mary’s.” Dinner was good – I had ono (wahoo) and lobster, and Eric had Mahi-Mahi and lobster. When you walk in, the owner shows you what fish they have – they’re all lying there in ice on this big table. It was fun to see what all the fish really look like, especially the Mahi-Mahi, which is a huge (4 ft. long) square-headed fish.

The heat here in Bora Bora has been a bit oppressive at times, and I find myself getting faint from it. Eric and I decided that the solution is to drink more liquid and eat a little more salt – we’ll see how that works.

Today was spent snorkeling, sunbathing, exploring the hotel, and napping. The snorkeling here is quite good. Actually, it’s the best I’ve ever seen in my admittedly limited experience! Just in front of the hotel is lots of coral that the beautiful, very tame fish feed at. (I’m not kidding about tame – Eric came very close to catching one right by the tail. They’ll swim between your legs as you stand there)!

We stopped at the general store to get more lotion, etc. and realized that Bora Bora is tres cher. A bottle of suntan lotion is $20.00. Pay or burn, I guess. We picked up some “local” lotion that was much cheaper. Hopefully, it’ll do the trick!It is difficult keeping this journal up to date in this luxuriously lazy place!

On Monday we had dinner with a nice newlywed couple from Salt Lake City, named Louise and Carl. I’d first seen them at Roratonga, and then again at the Bali Ha’i, and again at the airport headed for Bora Bora. I told Eric that if they ended up staying at our hotel, I had to come up and introduce myself. As I turned out, they were staying at the Hotel Bora Bora.

Louise and Carl were married about three seeks ago in Maui, spent a few days there, then went on to Fiji, then Moorea, then Bora Bora. Eric found their conversion to be somewhat sleep-inducing, but they are nice people – he’s and architect and she’s a social worker for the state of Utah. Louise was interested in possibly going to law school, but after my description, she my not be too keen on the idea anymore.Last night while we were out on the deck feeding the fish two huge black and white manta rays swam by us. The first one came right out of the water and did a graceful back-somersault right at our steps from the deck. The sight was so amazing (the manta must have been 5 ft. across tip to tip), that I gasped pretty loudly, startling all of us who were watching. He came back again about a half an hour later and did his somersault show for us again. We waited for him to return again, but he must have gone to other parts of the lagoon. What an incredible sight.

Eric sat outside for awhile tonight, but, unfortunately, the manta did not come for a visit. Eric and I have decided that the food and drinks here are much too expensive. Whenever you’re in a “touristy” place, you expect the prices to be high, but here they are truly unreasonable. For example, last night was a “soiree” on the beach for dinner – at 1900 cfp per person, roughly $19.00. All it was was fish soup and a plain salad, and didn’t include the drinks, which are nothing to comment about, and which cost about $8.00 apiece. Yesterday, Eric and I rode some bicycles to Vaitape, the nearest town, to pick up some “groceries.” There’s a store there called “Chin Lees.” We picked up cheese, a baguette and lots of potables – that should keep us through the duration. We even picked up some Mumm’s Cordon Rouge that we plan to crack open on the 4th.

Tomorrow is a relatively early day. We’re renting a scooter and going around the island. It should be fun!

As planned, yesterday we had breakfast in our room and headed out for an early scooter ride around the island. The island is only 20 miles around, so we only planned a couple of hours
for the trip.

Our scooter was a bright red Peugeot, with a comfortable, wide seat. We had to wear helmets, which looked a bit funny on us! Eric’s was a typical motorcycle-type helmet and mine looked more like a helmet used for cycling. We both looked dashing.

It was an overcast morning, but our ride around the island was still quite fun. Unlike Hawaii, the Tahitian islands are relatively unspoiled, and largely uninhabited, or so it seemed to us.

We stopped at a makeshift gift shop at the side of the road and Eric bought a little Tiki with shells around its neck. I noticed while we were there that there was the corpse of a dead spider hanging just about our heads. The thing was huge – just a little smaller than my hand. Eric was proud that I didn’t scream when I saw it. I was glad it was dead.
Our little “shopping trip” was especially fun for me. The woman didn’t seem to speak any English, just French, so I had to get through the interchange entirely speaking French. I’m sure my grammar is bad – I need to bone up on it - but the people here don’t seem to mind, and they seem to understand what I’m saying without any problem. We finished our scooter trip in a little over two hours, and, as it turned out, we got back just in time. Just as we were pulling into the rental place, it started to rain steadily, and we had a fairly steady downpour for the rest of the afternoon. At 4:00 we went to the game room to exchange some books, and caught the beginning of tea, so we stopped and had some tea and cookies.

We returned to Bloody Mary’s for dinner. We walked there from our hotel – its only 10 minutes away. I like to walk on the road when night is falling, because the land crabs start venturing from their holes. It’s fun to watch them scurry back to shelter when you get within f few feet from them. Everywhere you look, there are land crabs of varying sizes – some are quite big – perhaps 6-7 inches in diameter – but they’re all timid at the sight of people. Bloody Mary’s was somewhat unimpressive. I had Mahi-Mahi that was a bit tasteless. Eric enjoyed his appetizer – sashimi, but wasn’t wild about his main course, either. The service is bad there, too. It’s too bad, really, because the place is touted as “the best seafood in the Pacific” and is a favorite hangout for celebrities that visit the island. Eric described the décor of the restaurant as “Banana Republic.” An accurate assessment, I think.

So far today (it’s only 12 noon) we’ve sunned and swam. The first time I jumped into the water today, Eric saw a huge manta ray swim between me and the dock. Again,Eric was proud of me for not panicking. So am I.

Didn’t want to forget to write this one down! We just saw a big (~ 3 feet) long and very fat fish feeding in front of our bungalow. Eric had thrown some big pieces of bread into the water that floated out into pretty deep water. The next thing we knew, “studley,” as Eric named him, came to visit. He looks like an old parrotfish and has definitely seen a bit of action in his day. We think we saw him get a fish, too.We discovered where the manta rays hang out at night. The hotel dock has several lights that are underwater, which attracts the plankton that the mantas eat, so they spend a lot of time eating and playing around there. Eric got some videos of them. The night we went to see them, there were three of them. One was a huge one, at least 5 feet across, and the other two were probably about 3 ½ to 4 feet across. They’d bring their mouths right up to the light so we got a good look at them. Pretty amazing.

It was a little sad to leave Bora Bora – I hated to leave my fish friends that I fed everyday – especially the yellow and black angel fish. When they come up to eat the bread they make a little kissing noise. They’re so tame they’ll eat out of your hand. I imagine the next occupant will feed them just as well, though.

We flew from Bora Bora to Papette on the morning of the 6th and spent the day at our hotel in Papeete. It was a very hot day, and Eric and I weren’t too keen on trekking into a hot, dusty city, so we stayed in our hotel room, ventured out only to have meals at the hotel restaurant.

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