Part 3: March 8 – 21, 2007 – Two Weeks on the Island of Tahiti
First Week in Tahiti – March 8 – 14, 2007
Well the first week in Tahiti has come and gone in a flash. It has been full of excitement and adventure as expected, sometimes a bit too much. We have slept on cold tile floors, snorkelled, met past friends, swam by an enormous waterfall, visited the Hospital’s emergency room and walked around the capital city of Papeete… but first things first.
A Quick Flight
The flight over to Papeete from Rarotonga was less than 2 hours. The difficult part about the flight was not the short duration but rather the late hour of the flight. We left just after 10 PM to arrive in Papeete around midnight. By the time we disembarked from the airplane 4 of our 5 children had already fallen asleep and we had to wake most of them off as it was too much of a challenge to carry them and our carry-on baggage. Although our 3 year old remained asleep while we disembarked, he soon woke up as we waited to pass through customs.
Given that there were 7 of us it seemed to take much longer than usual. The next customs officer over must have processed 15 other people in the time that it took for us to pass on to pick up our baggage. By the time we were finished just before 1 AM, all of our luggage was waiting for us and we quickly exited the airport only to be greeted by what was to be our host family for the next two weeks. They were sure to greet us with a traditional kiss on each cheek and draped a beautiful smelling Ai (same as the Hawaiian Flower Lei) around our necks. Apart from our cranky little 3 year old, each of us were delighted to wear the sweet scented flowers around our necks for the late night drive to our host family. Although we were all very tired by this time, they had prepared a late night meal for us that we were happy to eat before crashing for the night, half of us sleeping in the living room and the other half of us in one of their children’s bedrooms.
Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti
The main island in French Polynesia is the island of Tahiti with the largest capital city of Papeete. Tahiti is made up of two conjoined round islands. The larger island is called Tahiti Nui which has a road that circles around the entire edge, while the smaller circular island that is conneced by a narrow strip of land is called Tahiti Iti. Tahiti Iti has a road that connects to Tahiti Nui but the road only circles around the top half of the island where the two islands connect.
Trip to Tautira
Our first adventure on Tahiti happened on the day we arrived. We didn’t do anything but rest and get ourselves situated in the morning and afternoon. Our host family had to leave at 5 AM after only 3 hours sleep to go to school. Apparently after 6 am the traffic into Papeete is at a standstill until about 9 am due to commuter congestion. They were off to their last day of school before their 3 week Summer Holiday. It is so hot in the month of March that there is a three week school holiday for the children who would otherwise have a hard time concentrating on their studies.
In the afternoon we packed up some day packs for our adventure to Tautira. Our host family does volunteer work with a youth group and they were heading off for a 24 hour getaway to Tautira. Tautira is the furthest Southeastern town in Tahiti Iti, tucked away among farmlands and plantatioins. Although we were supposed to meet our bus at 6:00 PM it never really arrived until just before 7:30 PM. The school busses in Tahiti are all operated by the various municipalities. I was told that island time was not always at the time specified, especially if it was a “municipally provided bus”.
The bus was one of the famous “Le Trucs” that have been popular over the years in this part of the world. This particular version was rather long and had 2 wooden bench seats that ran the length of the sides of the bus with a third bench seat that ran from the front to the back of the centre of the bus. The bus driver is conveniently in a separate cab in the front of the bus while individuals board the bus from stairs the mount from the rear passenger side of the bus.
The ride was extremely bumpy and uncomfortable on the wooden seats but this was soon forgotten as we sat in the back during the one and a half hour ride singing song after song and playing game after game. The young people, mostly from a church group, were friendly to each of our anxious five children as they taught them a number of songs to help them learn French and Tahitian words. By the time we arrived at our destination shortly after 9 PM, two of our children were asleep with the others quite desperate to be sleeping as well. The only problem is that we had packed the dinner to eat upon arrival, so they were more hungry than they were tired.
The city hall of Tuatira was the host to our group of 16 to 18 year olds. Although it is not a normal location for a group of young people to stay, it was perhaps an exception during renovations that were going on. Our night was to be spent on a tile floor some of us even had a blanket. We had brought a foamy that was big enough for two while two of our children squeezed onto an inflatable mattress that was loaned to us at the last minute. My two oldest boys and I slept directly on the tile floor with a small sheet underneath us. We had packed light and were not sure what to expect and so we ended up sharing our three towels that we had brought for blankets to cover us. We had conveniently forgotten five small blankets at the door of our host family’s house before we left, only to realize it while setting up our beds for the night.
The night-time temperature had dropped a few degrees to about 27 degrees celcius, still hot for us Canadians coming from 5 degree weather. Fortunately we were provided with the only room that had air conditioning. It was about 10 feet by 10 feet and was the perfect size for a family of tired wanderers that had only just arrived at 2 AM that same morning.
I do have to admit that I did wake up many times in the night to adjust positions on the tile floor. When I woke up the first time around 1 AM I was quite dissappointed that it was not later. I tossed and turned but it did not seem to make the tile any more comfortable. Finally around 5 AM I repositioned the two slumberers on the foam mattress (including my wife) so that I could sqeeze out a comfy corner in the fetal position. I was not going to be picky as it seemed a bit of a better alternative to the tile floor. Besides, when I went outside to stretch I noticed others sleeping on their packs without a blanket on the warm tile floor.
Shortly after my attempt to carve out a comfy corner to sleep on my wife, who had not entirely slept soundly, decided that she would call it a night and join the others who were starting to wake up for the day. This was the moment I had been dreaming of and without complaint stretched out to catch what seemed like a two hour morning siesta. I slept like a log for those two heavenly hours, and they went by in a flash, even without a blanket.
The Day in the Sleepy Town of Tautira – Pareos, Canoeing and Snorkelling
Tautira, being on the edge of a dead end highway wrapping half way around Tahiti Iti, may not be entirely considered a sleepy town. But it was after all, the first day of a three week school holiday and therefore there was not much traffic at all on the road.
Tautira is a beautiful town that is wrapped in Green vegetation. The land is fairly flat along the coastline and is perfect for growing the Tahitian flowers, fruits and vegetables that we saw in the fields along the road. Shortly after a deep fried bread and chocolate filled (fried) bread breakfast, I was invited by someone to go on a short “promenade” down the road and through the city. The friendly gentleman to take me around was someone I had only just introduced myself to 15 minutes earlier. He was the person who worked at the city hall we were staying in and was there to monitor things and to make sure everything was kept in order.
I jumped at the chance to tour the town with a local person so I hopped on the bus with just him and the bus driver to be toured along the coastline and down the road about 10 kilometres. We had driven to our destination so late the previous night that I did not have a chance to see any of the beautiful sights along the way. I now had the chance to see the lush green mountains soaring on the one side with the black sand beaches and ocean on the other. It was my first daytime look at the Tahitian coastline.
After a quick stop at my guide’s house to pick up his lunch, we continued back to the city hall where we were staying. My five children by this time had finished breakfast and were helping the other youth in making some Pareo’s for elderly people in an old folks home. The group was planning on visiting a senior’s home the following month to sing, dance and present them with some Tahitian Pareo’s. A Pareo is a simple sheet of fabric that ladies wear. It is used to wrap around them and in many cases is used as very casual wear, especially cool and ideal for the hot climate.
Each of my children were busy tie-dying rings, stripes and other designs of various colours into the white fabric cloth that they cut from one long sheet. They had about four to five different colours that they were using as they dipped the white fabric in buckets and carefully wrung out the dye. After colouring the fabric, they carefully unfolded the cloth that had been strategically folded to produce a variety of amazing designs. The sheets of fabric were then left out to dry in the hot sun with four stones holding them down on each corner and to prevent them from blowing away. A few of my adventurous children designers, followed the locals and gathered some large leaves which they placed on the fabric while it was drying in the hot sun. This was done to leave leaf imprints in the dye’s of the Pareo.
While the Pareo’s were left to dry the rest of the afternoon was spend exploring the water of the coastline. I took my oldest son Jaeden out with four others in a Tahitian canoe. Strapped to the side of the canoe was the traditional pontoon that keeps the canoe from tipping in what can be very rough seas. I soon learned of the strength that is required of the polynesians who traversed the waters by canoe. Being the third paddler, I followed the direction of the lead paddler at the front of the boat. Each of us alternated the side we were paddling on and as the person directing the paddling behind me made a deep “Hup” sound we all simultaneously swapped the sides we were paddling on. Polynesians can go for 5 hours or more without stopping using this alternating paddling method. Perhaps this is not new to those who row for sport, but it was a bit unique for someone who had come from a small Northern Canadian town and had thought that canoes were for two people that balanced all on their own.
After about 15 minutes and paddling 4 kilometres I was starting to feel a little exhausted and hot in the 30+ degree sun. After making a comment on my fatigue, we all jumped overboard in a beautiful harbour that we had paddled over to. It was a refreshing swim as we cooled off in the water that lay between the sandy shore and the outer reef that protected us from the open ocean.
The rest of the day was spent playing games and snorkelling in the amazing waters in front of Tautira’s city hall. Here the snorkelling was amazing. I could see why on a few occassions throughout the day, that some of the locals were stringing out their fish nets, circling the fish with their snorkels and masks and then slowly rounding up the fish that they wanted to eat for the day. They were rounding up what looked like sardine sized fish and I was told that the fish are very delicious and are eaten whole. I opted to simply look at the fish and as I swam in the current that slowly moved me along I experienced an amazing aquatic treat that I had not expected. Clams were wedged in the purple/blue, white and yellow coral that was growing in this area. Egg sized colourful almost invisible black fish with two blue flourescent spots on their sides were hiding amongst the coral. Yellow striped and flourescent orange, blue and purple fish lazily swam around the coral rocks that covered the ocean floor. It was an entirely different experience to the snorkelling that I had just experienced a week earlier in the Cook Islands.
By the time 5 PM rolled around I was ready to head to our host family’s home for a soft bed and a comfy night’s sleep. Our children and I had truely had our first fun filled adventure on the island of Tahiti and we were ready for more.
Papeete is the busiest town of French Polynesia and it is amazing to see almost every modern French convenience available so far away from France. Everything about the city seems to be much the same as if you were in France except for the fact that you are on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. All of the same major department and grocery stores seem to be here offering the conveniences of the Western world with a slight twist, prices seem to be a bit higher. We have been warned not to expect the same services throughout all of French Polynesia. While services are available, Papeete seems to be the exception with lots more competetive pricing to keep things high yet reasonable.
Fortunately I was escourted into the city of Papeete for my first time into the city. The drive from a suburb east of Papeete was reasonable in the late morning with only one bit of traffic congestion as we approached the traffic circle that lay along the main road along the harbour of Papeete (in front of the busy cruise ship terminal). From here we were directed to some parking in front of the cruise ships which was conveniently enough located so that we could walk into the downtown area. There is no charge for parking at the places I saw in Papeete including this one… but you do have to be a good driver to squeeze into the European sized parking spots that sometimes don’t leave more than a foot or two on either side of your vehicle after you have parallel parked. I almost had to have some of my other family members jump out of the car to make sure that I could squeeze between a parked car and a cement wall to exit a parking lot.
The tourist office of Tahiti is conveniently located on the harbour of Downtown Papeete in front of where many Cruise lines park their boats. We made this our first stop in Papeete to gather some information that we needed for the rest of our voyage. We were able to gather information on the island of Tahiti as well as on transportation and accommodation throughout French Polynesia including the Tuamotu and Marquesas Islands. The information centre also had some fresh fruits of the island conveniently set out on a table for us to taste. They probably did not expect an army of snack happy children to come rolling into their front doors. The small wooden bowls of Pineapple, Pamplemousse (a type of sweet grapefruit), bannanas and watermelon quickly dissappeared as each of my five children and their parents had a sample or two of each local fruit.
We then walked through the popular Papeete market which on the Monday we visited was not too busy but had a good variety of fruits, vegetables, souvenirs and flowers. I was told that 5 AM Sunday morning is the best time to visit the market as it is loaded with vendors and buyers from all over the island of Tahiti. The streets are blocked off as local farmers and artisans sell their wares on the streets and in the covered two storey market square.
Air Tahiti Family Discounts
Air Tahiti’s office was probably not the best choice of a place to visit on the first day of the three week school holiday. It was packed with people looking for information on travelling to visit friends and family throughout the islands. We had gone just to obtain a family discount travel pass. This entitled us as parents to qualify for up to 35% off selected flights and for our children to receive up to 65% off of the standard flight prices. Discounts vary and depend on the flight. Although it is hard to determine which flights qulaify for the various discounts, the ticketing agent was extremely helpful considering the long lineups of locals.
Discount cards can be obtained for Families, Students and Seniors but must be obtained in Tahiti. It is required to have original birth certificates (preferrably translated into French) that include the parent’s names on them along with photo id for the parents. In our case they did hesitantly accept each of our passports as photo ID (since our Canadian Passports were translated into French unlike our birth certificates). We also had to go across the street as one parent needed to have an official photo ID taken to be placed onto the card. Fortunately they gave us 4 photos. We needed to have two cards with one photo each, made up because only 4 other family member names would fit on the standard Family ID card. They just stapled this second ID card to the first with our two other children’s names on it.
Banking and Cell Phones
As long as everything goes as planned you should not have any problems with banking in Tahiti… that is… if everything goes as planned. I made sure to notify my credit card’s that I was travelling to the Cook Islands and Tahiti for a specified period of time. I did however forget to notify my Bank who issued my debit card of the fact. Due to the fact that I had used it in the Cook Islands only a few days previously, I assume that is why it was flagged as suspicious. By the time I tried using it only a few days later in Tahiti, it did not work. I tried going to three different banks but the machine kept informing me that it could not process my request. My biggest problem is that my bank card only has a toll free phone number listed on it. A toll free number that does not work from Tahiti. I went online and my President’s Choice banking online did not even list their local number for me to call. I have had to email someone back at home to attempt to get a local phone number to call for assistance in getting my bank card to work again. It has now been a week since I have been able to use my bank card.
Fortunately credit cards are accepted widely in Papeete and at grocery stores otherwise I may be tempted to spend $3.50 per minute to call home on my cell phone. The only call I have received so far has been a wrong number, argh! My call display does not work when receiving calls from back at home so its kind of a gamble if I pick up the phone. Text messaging does however work quite well and at 40 cents per message emailed to me, it is not a bad way to stay in touch (free if the message comes from another phone registered with my phone company). The only problem I have had is that my cell phone cannot reply to the text messages. I hope to have that one figured out soon if it is even possible.
In any case I just purchased a 44,000 CFP ($60 Canadian) SIM card for my phone and can now receive unlimited calls for free (6 months) and can buy recharge calls to make outbound calls for 71 CFP per minute. It is a much less expensive option than using my Canadian Cell phone. Fortunately I have a cell phone that is not locked by my Canadian cell phone company!
Waterfall Swimming and the Blowhole
Our five children came with us on a short drive to Faarumai Waterfalls on the North East cost of Tahiti Nui along with another French speaking family with 4 children and one of their friends. As is common in Tahiti some of the children rode in the back of the two pickup trucks with an adult. It was a short and bumpy dirt road drive off of the main road that goes around the circle island highway.
There are actually three waterfalls in this one little area. One of the waterfalls can be seen from the road for a few seconds of the drive while another is only a 3 minute hike from the dirt parking lot. The closest waterfall was massive with a drop of a couple hundred feet. It was quite awesome to see the water towering almost over our heads. It was close and went almost to the top of the sheer mountain cliff directly in front of us. Unfortunately the area has been roped off around the falls due to “falling rocks”. Perhaps it is a good idea but the children had been anxious to swim under the pool below the falls.
It didn’t take long for them however to run downstream and find a pool of water with a strong current to spend the next hour. They were not interested in hiking another 20 to 25 minutes to see the other two waterfalls. They wanted to get into the water. Well the children had a great time (after swatting all of the flys which did not bite) floating downstream and stumbling over the rocks. Except for a few minor cuts and scrapes the kids had a fun time. They managed to communicate a little bit with gestures and the occassional word that I helped them translate. It was an enjoyable afternoon in a bit of a different environment. A site well worth visiting.
Across the highway from the road that led to the waterfall, we found the Arahoho Blowhole. There was a short path with a cement retaining wall along the highway that lead to an outlook. From the outlook we could hear a whoosh sound on the other side of the narrow highway. From the hole, only 2 feet from the traffic driving by, was a whole in the ground. It lead to the ocean on our side of the road which would create quite a sound as the waves came in. Also in front of us was a fairly large blow hole that would spout up water as the waves came in. Although the waves were not massive on the day we visited they were a good size and left for a bit of excitement by the children. A fine way to finish off the day.
Taco Dinner Interrupted by a Trip to the Hospital
In appreciation for the generous hospitality of our host family we decided to treat them to a Canadian Mexican Taco Salad Dinner. It was a bit new to them but they seemed to enjoy it… that is when we finally got around to eating. Just before we were about to start our meal my 6 year old, “Orin” was swinging on a hammock with his brother and sister when he fell off onto the tile floor and got a three inch gash on his head. It wasn’t a pleasant sight and had me very worried. We quickly added a compress to the wound and after a few minutes of grabbing things we needed (including our travel insurance papers) we rushed down the mountain from where we were staying to the “Pompiers” (firemen) that were at the base of the mountain in Mahina (I was later told to dial 18 in case of emergency while in French Polynesia to reach the Pompiers). I was left with my son to the Pompiers who disinfected and re-dressed the wound before taking us in their ambulance with the blue lights flashing. It was a fast 20 minute drive to the Papeete Emergency room.
As I checked into the emergency room it was very similar to those at home. I had to give all the details to them on name, dates of birth, etc. They quickly gave me a piece of paper to write down all the details as it was hard to hear each other through the plexiglass (not to mention they were probably having a hard time understanding my French). Fortunately the lady hosting us arrived shortly thereafter to fill in all the blanks as far as what happened and their address. In my haste to go I did not have time to grab some of that essential information or my pocket Franklin Translator that has been so helpful in the past. I was surprised that nobody seemed to speak any English except for the doctor who spoke a little bit to my son after the ordeal was over.
After waiting outside (much cooler than the lobby) for about two hours we were finally called up and directed to proceed into the emergency room. We were immediately escourted into a small room where Orin was immediately placed into a bed where he remained for the next 30 minutes. They started working on him as soon as we entered by cutting off the bandages that the Pompiers had dressed on his wound. They then gave him a small mask which they hooked up to some laughing gas to take the edge off while they operated. Orin was extremely uncomfortable when they injected the freezing into his wound but he bore it well with the help of some deep breaths from the gas mask. Within a few minutes he was not able to feel a thing and so they were able to clean his wound, look it over and stitch it up.
He was not happy to hear that for the next 8 days until the stiches were to be removed, that he would not be able to go into the water at the beach or swimming in the pool. But as the following week has passed by he has managed fairly well considering the water is the main attraction… that is when he is not tempting himself by “wading” in the water with his feet… or accidentally getting splashed by the occasional wave on shore. Keeping him out of the water is almost like trying to keep a fish out of water.
Second Week in Tahiti – March 15 – 21, 2007
The second week has taken us around the Island of Tahiti Nui to museums, swimming in caves and to the Market. It has been a great deal of fun with kids and the Tahitian’s love for children is really becoming more and more evident.
Our family paid a visit to the lavish Intercontinental Hotel not far from the Papeete Airport. Being the largest hotel in French Polynesia with over 250 rooms it was an amazing sight to see. The popular Tahitian bungalows dotted the lagoon in front of the hotel while the main rooms of the hotel overlooked the three swimming pools, one of which seems to drop off into the ocean. Two swimming areas comes complete with its own bridge and sandy island. Probably the most interesting was the salt water Lagoonarium that houses a variety of fish and majestic Mantarays. Guests can snorkel around to look at the sealife in this gigantic private lagoon with its own prefabricated white sand beach (a rare site on the island of Tahiti which is basically all made up of black sand beaches). I have been told that this hotel hosts the best Tahitian dancing show twice weekly which includes traditional dancing. The outdoor stage faces the dining area with some of the dancing being performed in the shallow edge of the hotel’s large swimming pool.
Tahiti Museum and Her Islands
We made a visit to Tahiti’s main museum filled with interesting artifacts and historical photographs. The museum contains a wide variety of information that is available in Tahitian, French and English. It presents the geology of the islands, ancient artifacts from archaeological digs, displays of ancient homes and full body tattooing, details on human sacrifices, wars and weapons and documentation on European settlers and missionaries. It is a great place for older children that are interested in artifacts and history. For families travelling to Tahiti it is great to note that children are admitted free of charge while adults pay 600 PF (Polynesian Francs – approx. $8 Canadian). The museum also contained a less interesting but noteworthy 1937 art show black and white photos from a 28 year old French photographer (complete with a 10 minute ancient film of the event).
Our host family greeted us at the beginning of our second week in Tahiti with a Traditional Buffet of the islands harvest. We were treated to standard and cooked orange bananas, shaved coconut and coconut milk, pineapple, taro, breadfruit and Marquesian Pamplemousse. It was a refreshing cold meal of local foods served at the end of a hot day. We polished off every bit of the meal, with the kids preferring the sweeter more traditional items. Fortunately our youngest boy, a three year old, who has alergies to Coconut had fallen asleep on the way home. We were able to eat the complete meal without worrying about him coming in contact with the foods he is alergic to.
Boat to Moorea
There are about four or five boats that take both people and their cars from Papeete, Tahiti to the island of Moorea. Two of the boats take about 30 minutes while the rest take about an hour. We opted to take the quick 30 minute Moorea Express Catamaran. It was a good, comfortable, bumpy choice. We pulled out at the same time as another larger ferry but arrived half an hour before they did.
As we approached the island of Moorea we could see its tall green mountains spiking up out of the ocean. The island has some of the sheerest cliffs I have seen so far. The island has a bit of a rim around the edge but then the centre mountains rise up to an awe inspiring height. The island was beautiful to see as we approached, and as we did so, my wife informed me that she wanted to change all of the plans we had made thus far for the rest of our Tahiti Adventure. She told me that she now wanted to visit the Marqueses Islands by boat on the Aranui 3. It is something that we had talked about but decided against doing with all of the children.
The Aranui 3 is a half cargo ship, half cruise ship. It travels from Papeete to the Marqueses and back in two weeks visiting a number of the islands. They transport goods around the island and cruise passengers around as well to see the lesser visited corners of the most remote Polynesian Islands. I should have known that taking the boat to Moorea would have done this. The island was such a beautiful sight and it was the best and most natural way to go to the island.
Twenty years ago my wife sailed with 6 of her 7 siblings and parents through French Polynesia stopping in the Tuamotu and Marqueses Islands. She now wanted to go back and visit them in the same way she did as a girl. So it looks like we have to rearrange our plans and set up a brand new travel itinerary. That’s ok, we were only about to finalize our flights the day we went to Moorea anyways.
After disembarking from the boat we were fortunate enough to be met by some busses that transport people around the island. For only 300 CFP ($4 CAD) per adult and 100 CFP ($1.30 CAD) per child we were able to take the 20 kilometre bus ride to our hotel. The bus circles the island and stops along the way at homes and hotels. It is the most affordable way to get around the island although I have not yet figured out if there is an actual schedule (apart from just leaving whenever a boat comes by the ferry terminal). When I had called the Hotel earlier in the day they told me they could arrange transfers for 40,000 CFP per person ($55 CAD). We were travelling light for this 3 day trip and so that was not necessary.
The road around the island of Moorea is amazing. It loops around the beautiful blue lagoon coastline. The island of Moorea is shaped like a heart with three bumps on the top instead of two. At one stop the bus made. I was only 2 feet from the water looking at crystal clear water through a few branches of a tree. The water was clear and the sand was white (unlike the black sand of the main island of Tahiti). Perhaps the most amazing part of the drive was as we skirted the cost of Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay (the two bays at the top of the island). These bays were as blue as one could imagine in paradise with towering mountains and spikes along the coastline. Something that can only be best described by a photo.
Topics to Come:
Botanical Gardens & Paul Gaugin Museum
Roulotte (Van Restaurants) Smorgasboard
Intercontinental Beachcomber Resort Moorea
Friendly Pizzeria on Moorea
Children with Alergies in French Polynesia