May 21, 2014

Tahiti - The Hub of French Polynesia Becomes the Hub of Our Trip

And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because 
It's a heightened state of awareness, in which we are 
Mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity 
And ready to be transformed. 
That is why the best trips, like the best 
Love affairs, never really end.
Pico Iyer 

One of the immaculate parks in Papeete
Arriving in Tahiti we go to our first pension and, by happenstance, we meet a fellow sailor and his wife.  He is from Turkey, she is from Thailand.  He was on his second circumnavigation, it was her first.  She was fit and only 37 years old when she had 2 heart attacks in the Marquesas.  She was lucky they weren’t in the middle of the ocean when it happened.  She was treated in Tahiti and recovering at the pension.  They still have plans to follow through to Thailand once she gets better.  This, once again, reminded us why we have to do what we are doing now - - - life is so unpredictable.

With their wildlife of course
Lighthouse from the 1800,s
Tahiti is too big a city to be beautiful and friendly but you can find anything you want here.  We quickly figure out the layout and enjoy many strolls through the wilderness of narrow streets filled with way too much traffic.  French Polynesia is known for not having good public transportation systems even for the locals – rush hour here can be brutal.

More churches per capita than anything we've seen before
Deads buried near beaches, in homes' front yards, cemeteries, parks...
In one of our meanderings we came across traditional dancing.  About 40 women and 40 men practicing for the upcoming July dance contest (as part of the Heiva).  They are mesmerizing.  We went back for a second night to witness a different type of dancing.  The first night’s dancing was accompanied solely by drums while the second night was accompanied by string instruments and voices.  Each had its own characteristics and beauty.  We lucked out to see the ‘real’ thing.  Many resorts and hotels offer ‘traditional dance’ shows but the dancers are no longer into it – they only do it for tourists – not the same animal.  We even got to hear the corrections given to the dancers by the teachers.  It helped us know what to look for in the various dances, what was appropriate, what was not.  It was a great educational moment.  We wished we could be here in July to see the finalists.   

First few roulottes setting up
Tables and chairs added
Same place next morning - all is clear
Of course we saw the famous roulottes of Tahiti.  For 30 years (since 1984) and each night around 6pm roulottes (think food RV's or mobile diners) come near the main dock downtown to set up for the evening meal.  Out of these small vehicles come out signs, menus, tables, chairs, tablecloths, washing station, food, napkins, utensils, etc.  It’s interesting and amazing to see how much can be stored in these vehicles.  Watching the well organized set up is half the fun.  It takes them nearly an hour to get everything ready.  We can choose from pizza to Chinese food or from steak and fries to Brittanny’s famous buckwheat crepes with real andouille sausages and apples…  Of course fish and veal abound in various forms with vanilla sauce, another Tahitian special.  The next morning, the dock is empty and it would be impossible to know the roulottes ever existed the night before. 

Our guide Teiva posing for the obligatory corny picture by a waterfall
He looks more natural picking ferns
And our ride for the day...
We hiked one of the major valleys of Tahiti.  Our guide’s family owns the valley and is fortunate that it contains a river large enough to be dammed and producing electricity for the island (40% of power is hydroelectric, 60% diesel generators)… They are doing well from the proceeds.  Teiva, our guide from Tahiti-Discovery, used to be a well known traditional dancer traveling the world to share this art with other countries. Age and injuries made him quit dance but he still teaches it and guides people when he has time.  We had an absolutely wonderful time with him.  He loved teasing us by starting stories that would end on a cliff hanger where we would be holding our breath only to find out he was not telling the truth.  We got taken quite a few times. 
You did notice the vehicle's snorkel in previous picture...
Standing in the back of the 4 x 4
Yes - it does say 20%
Another corny one - but 'cute'
From heart to crown
Luck was with us when finding our second pension (the first only had space for one night).  We ended up staying with the ONLY professional Polynesian basketball player in the world.  It would be like saying we stayed with Michael Jordan in the US. Anywhere we went people would be impressed if they found out we knew him.  He was in Europe for most of his professional life.  He is back home teaching kids and helping them stay off drugs and alcohol through sport.  Great people!

Entering first lava tube - a short one no need for headlamps yet
Our guide checking everything out before our own ascent
Getting ready to be wetter - crossing a waterfall at the entrance of the last tube
OK - I'm wet - notice the plastic sandals from our guides
since we didn't have hiking shoes...
His turn - same sandals...
Comfy before another climb - surrounded by gold tinged ceiling
Angelina and Hiro - our wonderful guides
Ready for the last tube - headlights ON
Did I mention it was a rainy day?  Marie-France going up, Mike next
Now going down...
Mike too - I think he's posing
Time to go down the waterfalls outside the tube
The group that made it with us
An eel waiting for food scraps while we had lunch
Tahiti has awesome lava tubes to visit.  Unlike lawsuit happy US where everything is overdone when it comes to safety, here we were allowed to really climb wet rocks, unattached in most cases, just holding on to plants, ropes, other people or rocks.  You appreciate these tubes much better after all the hard, perhaps a little dangerous, work to get there.  We were sore and tired at the end of the day but it was worth EVERY step, dunk in the river, or penny.  

Angelina, our guide from Reva Trek, was the first Polynesian women to obtain high mountain climbing certificate.  This was rated a medium climb and although we consider ourselves in good shape, we are really glad we didn’t attempt one of her difficult climbs.  We need to get in better shape for these.  We were sore and tired for a couple of days after that great day in nature.  The tubes are large and one needs headlights for the visit (supplied by the guide).  The tubes’ ceilings are covered with bright yellow lichen that looks like gold when lighted.  It’s beautiful.  Before entering the third tube we had to go through a waterfall - - - good thing the water is just cool enough to be comfortable but not numbing. 
One of several new murals in Papeete - This one called Tiki Origins
We happen to be visiting while they are getting ready for a graffiti contest – many new and beautiful murals appear around the city.
We learn a lot from our kind hosts at Pension Tutehau (type of mango tree)…  They are extremely warm, kind, and loving life.  They have lived in Fakarava for 2 years and have connections on several of the islands we are visiting, being a trove of information anytime we need it.   
Sugar cane juice with a twist of lime, sweet and sour - yum - locally grown
Fruits, veggies, fish - colors, colors
Grinding coconut from shell for fresh grated coconut or coconut milk (if pressed)
Too beautiful to eat rainbow colored parrot fish - tasty
Taro roots
Long green or purple beans
Banana leaf hiding banana bread
Brown/purple banana bread - very sticky but good
We go to the Sunday market with Martine, our host.  The market is open from 3-9am and one needs to be there early as most things are gone by 8am.  There we purchase new meals-to-go to try out.  Everything is still warm, newly home cooked and delicious.  It’s a lot less expensive than going to the restaurant.

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