Monday, May 30, 2016

New adventures in the South Pacific

Every journey I go on, I take a little notebook with me and jot down all our experiences, from food places and bars to randoms we meet but our departing Auckland to fly to Papeete was all chaos with a worrying lack of preparation and in my disorganised state I forgot my notebook. So instead of risking forgetting everything i thought I would write it here, I guess that's what's a blog is for, non?

We flew down in to Papeete at 1am, gaining our Friday back which is always nice. In an effort to save money in French Polynesia (something we heard would be difficult) we decided not to book a hotel for the 5 hours before our ferry to Moorea and just find somewhere to stay awake for those 5 hours instead. The first hurdle was the language barrier. We had both taken French at school but that was 20 years ago and our taxi driver didn't really speak English. She agreed to take us to the ferry terminal though she was clearly confused about why we want to go there at 2am when the first ferry wasn't until 6am. I had heard about a food market, les Roulettes that I thought was close and somewhere we could sit after the food trucks left after 2am but the driver couldn't understand me. If we had bothered to learn a few French phases we could have asked, well, where is a good place to kill 5 hours unmolested and maybe with beers? Lesson 1, learn to speak the language!

She drove around the ferry terminal and it was dishearteningly abandoned and all locked up. Eventually she stopped outside the ferry terminal entrance which just happened to have a couple of dodgy looking nightclubs opposite. Not really what we were looking for, but we couldn't stay in the taxi for much longer. We thought to stand outside the ferry terminal gates with all our luggage for a few hours but as we paid the driver a Tahitian woman leaned over the railings to one of the nightclubs and asked what we were doing, and strongly advised we did not hang around this area with our belongings as they would be taken. 

So we entered the Ziouziou nightclub - which also doubled as a karaoke bar - to the amusement of all the drunk Tahitians inside. We felt uneasy, but got a beer ($13 a bottle!!) and sat in the corner attempting to draw zero attention to ourselves and to stay awake. It was mostly women but as the evening went on we realised some men too, who we had originally thought were women until we heard them sing. Apparently this is a thing in Tahiti, men who were raised like daughters and so continue dressing and acting this way into adulthood. 

And in the end people were friendly enough and left us alone and the karaoke wasn't too horrific, and at 4am when they kicked us and everyone else, we made our way over to the ferry terminal entrance only for a lovely security man inside to appear only moments after asking, "Moorea ferry?" And then letting us inside the complex and locking the gates behind us. 

The ferry ride is only 25 minutes long and it is the top rated thing to do in Papeete on TripAdvisor which possibly says more about Papeete than it does the ferry ride. To be honest I slept through most of it's all nighters are not really a thing I do much any more so I was pretty sleepy. I also slept for the most of 40 minutes taxi ride to our hotel too. 

What I I did see of the island though looked stunning. Extemely dramatic, big peaks of volcanic cliffs and forest and then every now and views of golden sandy beaches. Like the interior of Rarotonga but so much bigger. Or Hawaii without all the infrastructure. We arrived around 7.30am to our hotel, Moorea Fare Miti to be told our room would actually be available as the previous guests had left earlier due to an Air Tahiti strike. Briefly noticing the amazing room, a traditional Polynesia hut right on the beach which is beautiful, we went into our bedroom, turned on the fan, and slept for 4 hours.

After we woke we realised how hungry we were so we wandered down the beach for 10 minutes until we found a hotel restaurant we could eat in. The restaurant at the Hotel Hisbiscus is a pretty soulless affair but it has a nice view so we forgave them the thoughtless non offensive music (which to me is the most offensive music) and ordered pizza, green salad and beers. Lesson 2, eating healthy is expensive in French Polynesia. The green salad, basically a bowl of lettuce leaves, was the equivalent of NZD $8. 

We finally got to lie on the beach in the afternoon and read our books; absolute bliss. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant itself but offers varoius takeaway options to be delivered to the room - excellent! We both chose a tuna option, one with garlic sauce and one in vanilla and coconut and then settled in for our first Society island sunset. I do love a good sunset. 

The food was amazing, and again we choose healthy sides - rice and green beans - and there was enough for next night too. Ah, thrift! We drank our gin and whiskey and played cards until we got sleepy again. 

The next morning I watched as a gecko (who we named Hand Lion) stole across our outside table and then licked the remains of our evening meal up from the tablecloth. You just don't get these experiences in suburban Auckland. 

For day 2 I had booked us a boat trip with Captain Taina, in her glass bottomed boat. It was a small boat, with around 14 people (all pretty old) seated around the side of the glass bottom in the middle. She steered us over the coral to watch the pretty fishes and we followed a few turtles around too. Then we got into the water, with a Sting Ray. I couldn't quite get the thought of Steve Irwin out of my head which did put me off getting too close but Taina fed the Ray and then led it around so everyone could touch them. We got back in the boat and a little further on stopped at a sandbank for more stingray action, and also some sharks. To be fair the Sharks actually weren't that scary as they weren't really that arsed about us. They just circled around us about a lot. There were a lot more stingrays this time and again Captain Taina with the use of two dead fishes led them around so we all could experience getting touched up by a sting ray. Was a very surreal experience but pretty cool! Andy spent most of his time trying to get the Sharks to play with him. 

Back in the boat and Taina took us to a place out in the water, in view of the first Protestant church where a local sculptor had been carving statues for the past 15 years and then dropping them in the ocean. The reason was as a talking point for tourists and as a show of defiance of those early missionaries who forced Tahitians (as they did all across the pacific islands) to throw out their "false idols". It's one of the saddest facts about explorers that by "discovering" these beautiful isles they opened the doors to religion, diseases and outlandish claims to rule over these islands. One of the things that has surprised me so much on this trip is how many French tourists there are here (Captain Taina's boat was mostly French but she did a good job of speaking in one language and then switching to English) Well, you might think, it is a French colony but it is always a long, long way away from France! I can't imagine it's that cheap or easy to get to so I assumed more tourists from this side of the world to be honest. Will be interesting to see what Huahine and Ra'itea are like....

After a brief trip out beyond the reef into the actual Pacific Ocean we finally went to our private Motu for  lunch. Taina made a gorgeous raw tuna mixed with salad, lime and coconut milk which she served in a coconut shell whilst we drank Tahitian rum and pineapple juice. Yum! Then we had swordfish skewers with rice. An amazing meal and very fresh. After our food we had time for more snorkels and then she showed us how to open a coconut and use it and then it was time to leave. Back in time for the most amazing sunset and some cheeky Hinano beers. The evening meal was a bit disappointing after the amazing lunch - leftover cold fish and oily fried from the food truck down the road, although it was exceptionally cheap. 

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