01.08.2010 - 04.08.2010 30 °C
After reading all the slating reviews of Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia (45km across), we had no intention of going there but were forced by plane timetables to have a night there. We had heard that it was extortionate and a 5minute taxi ride from the airport to the hotel could cost $30, so we were going to walk it. With just our backpacks we found our way out of the airport and onto a pavement next to a 4 lane highway of speeding gas guzzlers. Incidentally this was not THE highway of 6 lanes which is further up the island. It was like back being in Asia but with everybody in the cars and hardly anybody walking the streets at night like us. We did ask a local passerby if we were walking in the right direction and though he spoke French, some broken English tumbled out of his mouth. He was really friendly and we were on the right path.
After spending a week in Rarotonga, we were really sensitive to pollution. We could smell and see the smog in the air. There were estuaries running under the pavement which were drowning in used coca cola cans and general rubbish. We walked past quite tightly packed neighbourhoods , with lush gardens of hibiscus flowers and trees swollen with mangoes or breadfruit.
Eventually we found our hotel – the Sofitel. It was Saturday night and the foyer of the hotel had a noticeable amount of anorexic middle aged women in tiny sequined dresses showing of their patina pins. We had no intention of going out on the town but also no intention of eating at the hotel. Julian left me in the bedroom to hunt and gather. He managed to come back with a very tasty takeaway Chinese. We actually found the Carrefour the next day ( 5 minutes walk from the hotel) so we could pick up some French cheese and baguette etc for lunch.
We were flying out on Sunday evening, the next day. We did toy with the idea of getting up early and going for some surf lessons, after all surfing was invented here. Or maybe taking a day trip around the island via the Gaughan museum (which had no original Gaughans). It all seemed a bit much when we had a plane to catch that evening. We figured the safest option would be to go into the main town. On Sunday, the hotel told us that no buses were running so they booked us a cab. It was not as bad as we thought but it was still $40. Once we were on the highway, we saw lots of buses which were running – but they didn’t really stop at bus stops. They kind of shout out of the window at pedestrians if they want to take the bus and then they stop. Anyway we were dropped off by the harbour in the main square of Papeete. It was boiling hot and sunny and everything felt quite neon bright with the lingering stench of the night before. We followed the walking tour in the lonely planet. There was a veritable amount of clubs, bars, shops and a market. Most things were closed bar a few cafes, so we did not see that much other than some well-kept plants in a park, impressive yachts and a lemon yellow catholic cathedral. I guess it sort of reminded me of Marbella. We had a coffee and got the bus back to the hotel. The hotel had a narrow black rocked beach, so we sat there amongst the topless honeymooners and ate our picnic.
It was dark by the time we were boarding for Bora Bora but we watched the lights of Tahiti disappear into the distance. We noticed that we were sharing our 45minute flight with a number of very well-heeled passengers with bling jewelry. We were unashamedly scruffy as always. The plane landed on a slither of a motu (an islet) north of the main land mass. Then we were herded onto a boat which sped to the main island in 30minutes. We stayed on the top deck but it got quite windy and cold. As we approached the port, we noticed that the main square had a sort of a dance-athon going on. We figured it was to entertain the local cruise ship embarkees.
A very jolly lady beckonned us to her minibus. Her husband – this big beardy friendly man lolled about in the back with their 3 small sleeping kids. Thing to note, we asked the lady if we had to pay her the cost of the taxi or if it was part of our room rate and she said it was all ‘included’ and well in the end we found $80 was added to the bill at the hotel. In hindsight there was no other choice, but it would have been nice to know if you were paying for something when you specifically ask !
We drove in the dark for about 20minutes before reaching our hotel- Mai Tai. The Mai Tai had mixed reviews on tripadvisor but for us it was fine for 2 nights. It was pretty much on the beach (but did have a small road between the hotel and the sand), so we could snorkle every day. We also took out a kayak and made an attempt to reach the nearest motu which was 30minutes away, but the waves and wind were too high, still it was hilarious. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful and the hotel food was great. Expect to pay $40 a head for dinner (unless it’s rancid looking pizzas and junkfood) anywhere on Bora Bora, but we did find a little supermarket where we could buy water and bread and cheese etc.
We took a trip to the town centre. What can I say, it was dead ! Only the extortionate black pearl jewelry shops were open. Even walking around was quite an effort because the roads were so broken with rubbish thrown into the rubble. However the locals were friendly and the views of the mountain were amazing. We killed some time just watching the locals fish at the harbour. We even spotted a Japanese film crew and struck up a conversation with them. They were doing a travel program. A beautiful little girl who was with a family fishing, sat with me and smiled and chatted to me in French.
My husband who has had family fight in WWI and WWII loves war history; so we decided to follow a ‘lonely planet’ walk to some giant cannons on the main hill. These cannons were left by the Americans when they used it as a supply base whilst fighting the Japanese. Anyway we walked up and down the main road around the island trying to find the entrance to the path, and then were told by a café owner that the book was wrong and the path was now privately owned because someone had bought the land with the cannon to build a house.
Oh yes, and we did have dinner at Bloody Marys. I had read a lot of the hype about it and how everyone from Cameron Diaz to Bill Gates had eaten there. To be fair,good eatery options on the island were limited. We were picked up by the Bloody Marys mini bus, which we noticed was full of Americans and no French tourists, which is always worrying when you are going to a restaurant in French Polynesia. The restaurant was well themed, with sand for floor and hut like décor. It all started off in a ceremonious way by everyone congregating around a table of delectable fresh line caught seafood glistening temptingly. You just point at what you would like. The only preparation on offer was ‘on the grill’ but there was a choice of sauces. Oh yes, and they don’t tell you the prices so you have to ask. It was not ridiculously expensive, though for the same price you could certainly have a Michelin starred lunch in London which had the same quality of ingredients but much more refined skill in cooking. The food was delicious though there were some tasteless items on offer for instance there was a booth selling Bloody Marys merchandise like Tee-shirts with a crowd of Americans with dollars in hand waiting for their turn. Anyways it was a fun night out and I do recommend it.
For our last night in French Polynesia, we had booked one night into the best possible overwater bungalow at the 5 star Le Meridien on the neighbouring motu. It was a total blow out, because we figured when else are we going to be staying in Bora Bora. A minibus took took us to the Le Meridien harbour, passing a number of derelict hotels and scrapyard gardens with ragged children playing. There was definately a rich tourist/ foreign hotelier vs poor locals divide.
We were taken to the resort by a little speed boat and the resort really was out of this world. Our staff walked us around the communal areas – the bar, restaurants and reception and then drove us in a caddy taking the scenic route through the sumptuous grounds of palm trees past the beach cabanas and finally our own decked lane to our bungalow.
We ooohed and aaaahed amazed. Floating nets cascaded from the sculptural wood ceiling of the four poster bed. We pressed our faces against the floor window onto the water underneath. The curtain which backed onto the bathroom area had petal shaped cut outs and somehow the light from the water through the floor window seemed to float onto it and make it look like it was on fire. The unadulterated view from our balcony was of the main island with its rugged overgrown peak. From our balcony there were some spiral steps straight into the clear turquoise pacific. It was deep enough to dive into. A very well thought out room.
We eventually prised ourselves away from the bungalow to venture down to the beach. Le Meridien have what is called a Turtle Sanctuary within their ‘lagoonarium’. The waters were crystal clear with some well positioned coral and abundance of exotic gaudy coloured fish. We snorkeled there for absolute hours. On the otherside of the lagoonarium there was the main beach. Again we did some kayaking.
For dinner we ate at the bar with some cocktails. It was all very romantic. We decided to head back to our bungalow till the traditional dance show on the beach later on that evening. The staff had left us a bottle of champagne! That really was a nice touch. And the show was fabulous, but probably not that traditional. At the end, I even danced at the front with the troop.
Just a faultless experience all in all.