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Archive for the ‘Tahiti’ Category

From cowrie…

Up before 6am to do final packing, then away around half past six for our two-Euro-per-minute transfer to the airport. There just in time to get a good place in an ever-growing queue at check-in; we were given a block of four seats in the middle of the aircraft.

However, we were presented with a recent print-out of our RTW itinerary which was alarmingly incorrect – all the dates were still the original dummy ones, and our alterations had not been fed through to Qantas. So we were down to fly out of wellington before we had even arrived in Auckland (this was why they queried our flight plans). What has gone wrong? Surely Travel Nation do this sort of thing all the time, but we’ll have to contact Lloyd to get this sorted out. (The problem is compounded by the fact that if you miss a flight, all your reservations on subsequent flights are automatically cancelled as well.)

Through security (they’re fussy about liquids once again) and we suffered the embarrassment of having a pair of the girls’ craft scissors being extracted from our hand luggage. Somehow, we were allowed to keep them; I fully expected them to join the knives, aerosols and other forbidden articles that you see heaped in those perspex boxes.

Time for some breakfast – pains au chocolat, pains aux raisins, a croissant. Internet access was advertised, but the airport had run out of the scratch cards you needed to purchase in order to use it.

We were among the first to board the plane; although I had heard good things about Air Tahiti Nui, it didn’t live up to LAN for us. More antiquated in-flight entertainment systems (you can’t start a film at any time; they run on a continuous loop so if you miss the beginning you have to wait for the next cycle) and a bit cramped for space at mealtimes (things kept falling off the trays). Still, we got up into the air and then down again safely, which is the important thing. Distracted from distraction by distraction is a fair summary of air travel; to spend a full six hours fully aware of the fact that there are 38,000 feet of not very much below you is probably too much reality to bear.

Just over half way through the flight we crossed the International Date Line (continued tomorrow)

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Something new under the sun

Who would have guessed that prescription goggles could be so exciting? I got them on a whim, to guard against my glasses being swept away by a freak wave. I had then largely forgotten about them until today, when I made a special one-mile round trip from the beach back to our room to get them.

Why? Poor man’s snorkelling (and believe me, I’m feeling poor…). Stick your face in the water, hold your breath and see what you can see.

I wasn’t expecting much. A sandy sea bed with a few stones. I waded out to where a large, dark mass was submerged and dipped my face under.

Wow! In the words of Tim Rice, a whole new world. Shimmering fish glinted turquoise and cobalt among a mystical city of minarets and pinnacles. I wanted more; I was hooked. I inhaled deeply and floated face down, spreadeagled, gazing in amazement. Zebra fish, black and white but also yellow-green and black; a beige leaf-shaped fish; large flat purple-black ones; sea anemones lurking in caverns. And all oblivious to my looming presence.

I found I could propel myself over the middle of the teeming rock city with my finger-fins. This the flying fantasy come true – that’s why I was addicted. Able to float at will, a sea-bird’s eye view of an undiscovered country; a country of such vertiginous geography that this was the only way to traverse it.

Okay, so this is nothing to you seasoned snorkellers and Scuba divas out there, but this was my first time. All this, just waiting within wading distance of a seemingly lifeless shore.

So we add this Tahiti beach to the list of places from which I can hardly drag myself away. That first perfect Manomet shore may just have been trumped; warmer water, calmer sea, even more sunshine (though we’re feeling the pain afterwards). We now head south to cooler currents for the next four months; let’s see what New Zealand and Australia can offer.

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Baked on the beach

After our delicious supper last night we all slept really well and woke slightly around 6.00am, but stayed in bed snoozing or watching zens.

It was our second and final day on Tahiti and we decided to return to the beach – don’t know when we’ll next have an opportunity to dip in the Pacific ocean. The girls and I went straight after breakfast, while Tim kindly visited the supermarket to get a picnic lunch.

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The sea is so warm that you can just walk in – none of that “I’ll just put my big toe in first”- business. There is even no shivering when you come out.
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We found the beach slightly busier than yesterday with a whole group of school children participating in some sort of games day. We walked further down the beach and found a lovely spot in the shade where we stripped off and left our stuff and dashed into the water – well, Hannah and I that is, Ellen was still happier on the shore to start with.

About half an hour later we were joined by Tim, hot from walking down the main road, and he was quick to strip off and slap on some suncream as well. We spent a lot of today just floating around in the sea, keeping ourselves cool and only seemed to come out for morning snack and lunch.
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Tim decided to return to the B&B to pick up his and Hannah’s pair of goggles to have a go at pseudo-snorkelling and Hannah excitedly came to tell me about some little colourful fish near a small coral outcrop a little further out in the sea. Now that got Ellen excited as well and she was very keen to practise putting her face in the water using Hannah’s goggles. Later in the afternoon I took her up to the coral and she bravely, albeit briefly, put her face in and was really chuffed with herself when she spotted a tiny blue fish. After that she felt confident enough to walk into the sea up to waist level without wanting a grown up to hold on to her!

The girls had also made a new little friend called Hinirawa who was spending the day on the beach with her mummy. They are originally from Tahiti but are living in Nimes while Tawa (the mother) finishes her psychology degree. They had come over to spend christmas with her family, while her husband had stayed in France. The girls shared biscuits and toys.

For lunch the girls shared another ham baguette and Tim & I a turkey one, followed by two big chocolate twists.

The next 2-3 hours we spent mostly in the water swimming, floating, watching the little fish go by and simply relaxing.

When we all started to look like lobsters and couldn’t find any shade to cool off we thought it would be better to return to the B&B where we had luke warm showers to wash the sand and salt out of our hair.
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For supper we went back to the roadside food stall, but when we turned up the tables hadn’t been set out yet as the shop at the back of the carpark didn’t close until 7.00pm. We decided to hang around and wait, and when it was time we watched how 4-5 people swiftly erected the gazebo, put up 6-7 tables, put the chairs around them and laid the tables. It was all done in no time and before we knew it we had ordered our two dishes. Tonight we shared meka (local fish) with chips and chow mein with chicken, prawns and vegetables. Again we were very pleased with the food and the huge portions. There was definitely more than enough food to share out among the four of us and it has certainly been a very long time since I last felt so full. Too full for my own comfort, but I’m not complaining…

Time to walk back home, put the girls to bed, finish the blog and have an early night. Tomorrow we start a new continent and hope to be able to meet up with John & Angela (Tim’s parents) shortly after landing.

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Tahiti

Tahiti. Topless Gauguin women, blue horses and palm-fringed beaches, innit? Well, not far off, although we haven’t seen any horses yet.

Anyway, you arrive at the airport, probably the only one in the world to feature a triple ‘A’ in its name – Faaa. Then the pitch-black transfer to the nowhere-room where you sleep (disturbed by the usual mad dogs and cockerels – are they mandatory on all Pacific islands?) until daylight at last reveals your surroundings.

In the distance, volcanic forested hills disappearing into grey drizzly cloud. A susurration of waves somewhere out of sight. Just outside, a garden-of-Eden with its profusion of fruits (several we don’t even recognise) and burbling birdsong, and a French breakfast (real coffee, fresh baguettes) awaiting us.
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What is this fruit?
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We are staying in what the sign calls a ‘bed & breakfast’, and just along the road is a ‘monster car wash’. But such affectations are far from indicative of linguistic preference or competence, any more than you’ll find fluent French spoken at an English Pret a Manger. For this B&B is a thoroughbred Francophone ‘pension’; we are expected to speak and understand French, the German guest speaks French, end of story.

Fair enough, we’ll do our best, but the main problem is remembering not to speak Spanish: ‘gracias’, ‘hola’, etc. become automatic after three months. So this is a sort of language detox zone before we get to New Zealand – enough time to switch off from Spanish but not long enough to start dreaming in French.

Two days on Tahiti – what to do? Jetlag to get over (although it’s 6pm now and we’re all doing well so far), an excellent beach just down the road and balmy temperatures. Would we wish to rent a car and tour the island? Well, I don’t even know what there is to see (we never got a guidebook for French Polynesia) and we could all do with a rest. So we voted for the beach.

First on foot to the supermarket. Our immediate thought: ‘Wasn’t Easter Island good value?’ – a bottle of decent wine for an indecent £50, one of champagne for an eye-popping £80, all that pricier-than-petrol Volvic and Evian flown in from the motherland.
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A small box of Tic-Tacs for nearly £1…?! Still, we put together a picnic lunch of filled baguettes, fresh fruit (at least the bananas are local) and a banana pancake to share for dessert.

The money itself is suitably over-inflated; great hanky-sized banknotes which need rolling up to fit into one’s wallet, and the smaller denominations have the dimensions and weight of doubloons or some other such antiquated currency – huge chocolate-coin-sized parodies.
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Then the sweltering return walk along the main road to find a beach. We turned off at the first waterfront, and then walked along the shore as we had been advised. Only we weren’t advised that there is no path, no shore, just slippery submerged rocks and sand. We all had times when we got wetter than we planned, but we eventually reached the right beach. (On the way we passed what could well be the local topless secluded cove.)
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We found a good spot to base ourselves with a handy palm stump to hang bags from, and then lost no time in throwing ourselves into the tempting ocean.
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(Well, except for Ellen who was once again more of a landlubber, drawing and constructing on the sand for most of the day.)
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Clear, clean, calm water, just the right temperature, and the air is so warm that it’s comfortable coming out again – no shivering dash for the towel. The waves break a few hundred metres from the shore and then there is scarcely a ripple – is there a reef or a sand bank out there?
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A popular beach, but not overcrowded. How is it that English families at the beach are either pasty white or lobster red with snivelling brats in tow, while les familles francaises are toned and tanned, laughing as they frolic in the waves with their adorable offspring?

Plenty of sun cream required; at times this was one of the hottest beach days we have had. Although we had cloudy spells, these were simply a welcome respite from the sun’s direct rays. The occasional light drizzle was tolerable, but by mid-afternoon the sky was turning an ominously dark shade of grey and the rain set in more seriously so we packed up and trudged back along the main road to the pension, getting sprayed with mud from passing lorries.

The weather cleared up, but the humidity has remained so that our soggy shoes have still not dried out. We talked with Fred, the owner; he came to Tahiti 25 years ago after his military service, and he met his wife when she came out here five years later. They started Te Miti (the pension) about 14 years ago, just before the first of their three sons came along. Since everything is an extension of France out here (judicial system, education system, etc.), they are happy with their life on the island. Except that their seven-month old, Melvin, won’t sleep for more than two hours at a time at night… (I blame the dogs and/or roosters.)

Fred also let us know that a good supper can be had from one of several ‘roulottes’ or vans that ply the main street after 6.30pm; you can get a big plateful of steak and chips for around 1000 Polynesian Francs. So we gave this a try; again, in the UK we get the dodgy kerbside burger van while here they requisition an entire shop car park to set up an al fresco kitchen behind the catering vehicles and tables with menus, candlelight and waitress service in the main area.

Sunset palms.
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Our roulotte meal.
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We ended up sitting a couple of tables away from Famille Fred. For just under 2500 XPF (X for Xpensive or Xtra large?) we shared a plate of chicken and chips and one of steak and chips with a lovely pepper sauce. Hannah could barely keep awake and Ellen started yawning so we got them back to our room and into bed around 7.30pm (equivalent to a second consecutive midnight party). They are doing well and I hope we’ll all be roughly okay with the new sleep cycle by the time we reach New Zealand. (Nana and Grandad will have a far greater adjustment to make after flying out from the UK in one go.)

It’s now getting on for 9pm and I’m starting to flag. A good night’s sleep for all, let us hope.

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