Not a cycling trip this time but………
It all began when Greg won the major spot prize, return air fares to Tahiti from Air Tahiti to be taken before the end of November this year,
at the Cycle for Life cycling event out at Clevedon at the beginning of the year. He graciously agreed to take me with him although it would have been a major scandal if he hadn’t!
Over the next few months we made contact with a travel broker – recommend by the airline – what is the point of travel brokers. …and he put together an itinerary with suggestions from us, at twice the cost of the airfares! But what the hell?! Greg managed to cobble together locum cover and we were pleased to be ‘forced’ to have a mid-winter Pacific Island getaway. Greg has had a very busy and at times stressful 6 months since we were last away in Myanmar in February so it wasn’t difficult to justify! And I have only a hobby immunisation job!
So on Sunday September 3rd after a 50 km ride with the boys, we took the four hour flight landing in Papeete 22 hours earlier than we had left! I was very happy to watch two movies – ‘Their Finest’ and ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ directed by Niki Caro a New Zealander I think. A very effective way of whiling the flight time away.
I’ve always wanted to be met at the airport by a man with our name on a board – the other fantasy I have is for my bionic hip to set off the airport metal detectors – it hasn’t yet, and so it was with a lovely Tahitian woman with a envelope full of the vouchers we had paid so much for, labelled Mr Howie! Yes!
Effortless trip with no jet lag and a happy settling into the Manava Resort, twenty minutes’ taxi ride from the airport.
Nothing was open on the Sunday and we ate a generous breakfast intended to last all day, lounged by the pool, inadvertently and disappointingly were sunburnt through the sun umbrella and explored the not very interesting neighbourhood and waterside watching the locals enjoying their water sports before a bistro dinner at the resort. You can’t go wrong with fish and chips.
We are starting to appreciate the value of the travel broker as the pickup from the hotel and transfer to the wharf happened like clockwork even allowing us an hour or so to roam the downtown Papeete market. I would like to find a suitably Tahitian sarong and maybe long shorts for Greg so it was good to have a recce of what is available and the prices which appear expensive for everything here. We paid $10NZD for a double chocolate Magnum.
The roll-on-roll-off ferry to Moorea took 45 minutes and we were met and transported 15 minutes along the coast to another Manava resort – a classic combination of little huts over water, hotel accommodation and tastefully designed thatched wooden huts like ours with their own wee yards and swimming pools – about the size of a Baptist church baptistry – which we rather enjoyed. Despite being quite hot we ventured out walking along the main road to the village, recce’d the eating and sarong buying places and the multitude of available activities. Greg had the local delicacy ‘poison cru’ – raw fish and I attempted two enormous steak skewers at the little barbecue restaurant, the Manuia, over the road – a relatively economical eating option. A couple of Auckland apartment dwelling kiwis regaled us with tales of their ATV and jet ski adventures – we may settle for less adventurous – read ‘scary’ activities although we are more than happy to laze around, reading enjoying the ambience and not doing very much at all.
We are getting plenty of opportunities to indulge in my favourite activity of people watching, guessing nationalities, marvelling at some people’s body-flaunting-around-the-pool shamelessness. If it’s not a women with an 8 month pregnant tummy in a look-at-me tiny fluorescent bikini prancing backwards and forwards all day, it’s a short fat American woman in one piece hide-nothing fluorescent play suit or a wobbly arsed tiny bikini bottom wearing young woman. All nicely tanned though which is something I will never be able to boast of. Or at the laid back beach restaurant, Rudy’s, a very tall woman wearing 6″ stiletto heels having dinner with her aged parents. Or the chap at the next table, American I think, with a shiny gold band somewhat self-consciously worn on his ring finger gazing at his new wife across the table. Or the American woman with evidence of a hideous left leg injury limping to the pool and her Indian companion wearing figure concealing swimming attire.
I’m not even attempting to speak French although I would love to be able to justify my 6 years of learning French at school and university. Tahitians speak both Tahitian and French as well as passable English so why bother?
We took out a double sit on kayak ensuring that we didn’t go far because of a significant breeze and water building up on the kayak. It was nice to look back to the shore with its spectacular back drop of bush-clad mountains sometimes eerily surrounded by mist and coconut palms, looking like a Gauguin painting.
When we go on cycling trips we can pretend that we are not ‘tourists’, but maybe adventure travellers, but anyone seeing us sipping our gin and tonics by the pool today would be left in no doubt as to our true status!
Even though holidays are supposed to be breaks from our normal lives, I do enjoy keeping up with news from home including the very interesting and exciting election campaign, and emails via my trusty I pad and hotel wi-fi facility.
Wednesday (it is hard to keep a track of the days as it is a day later in NZ) was motorcycle hiring day in order to circumnavigate the island. I was initially very gung-ho about getting on a motorised two wheeler again since my student motorcycling days. We had hired scooters on Vanuatu and Greg reminds me of my hooning round a roundabout the wrong way, but had done nothing since. But getting on the very heavy brute of a Peugeot ‘Tweet’ although only 50cc was something else and I was extremely nervous. I could have opted to be Greg’s pillion passenger but where’s the adventure and self determination in that?! Suffice it to say, we had an enjoyable ride – the colour of the lagoon was improbably teal blue, the mountains high and grand, the traffic respectful and slow as we meandered the 62 km at about 40 kph stopping a few times for pictures and to give our wrists a rest from the automatic accelerators. The couple of hours wasn’t long enough to feel really confident and I was happy to get back to base with our skin and motorcycles intact and the astronomical insurance excess unpaid.
It was refreshing in the middle of a hot and sunny day to plunge naked into our private swimming bath.
Thursday was water sports day. After breakfast we collected snorkelling gear and enjoyed the coloured fish without venturing too far into the very suddenly deep lagoon. Then it was trying out paddle boarding which is more difficult than it appears or is it just we are senescent! I fell off three times but managed to manoeuvre around the over-water huts. Paradoxically if in panic you grasp on to something fixed, you are more likely to can out because of the change of balance, than if you stay upright. Sitting then kneeling helps ease you towards standing up. More practice needed is the verdict! But paddle boarding is no advance really on kayaking. Reading and snacking by the pool gave us again more people watching opportunities including the puke inducing woman posing on the side of the pool while the partner took endless shots, and then they prevailed upon fellow French speakers to take pictures of them in a variety of poses together. Certainly there are plenty of loved up or not so loved up couples including one who had dinner at an adjacent table to us at the Moorea Beach Cafe, who barely engaged with each other, spending the whole time on their respective cell phones. We have had contact with some local people who have behaved in a very offhand way – is it French arrogance showing through?
Tourism is the most important industry for Tahiti and there is very little evidence of anything else. The community looks quite prosperous with no evidence of the poor subsistence living we are so familiar with in Asia. There are so many adventures on offer. Boating adventures of various kinds, diving, snorkelling with the opportunity to kiss stingrays and observe sharks close up, jet skis both individually available to hire bit also guided options, horse riding, tramping up mountains, four wheel driving around mountain tracks, small scale cycling, anything to extract mega dollars from the visiting rich, mainly from France and the US and the locals don’t even have to be polite!
I finally had the chance while Greg had another look at one of his stories, to browse the few tourist shops and came away relatively unscathed – just a pareo (lungi/lava lava/sarong) and a pair of shorts made out of gaudy Pacific print – made in Indonesia!
Gin and tonics by the pool before a disappointing dinner at the resort restaurant – Greg’s fish was OK but my veal escalopes tough and almost inedible. This was our last night on Moorea and we checked out the next morning, lounging by the pool getting sunburnt again alas, and connected with our pre-arranged taxi to the ferry terminus. The nine bananas we bought as a bunch at the wharf market tasted so much sweeter than the Ecuadorian ones we are used to. We feel we have done all we wanted and intended to do and think a week is long enough to unwind and soak up the French Polynesian atmosphere.
Home sweet home but freezing cold – 12 degrees – after a 5.30 am start and a boring long 6 hour flight. Bought some savate – jandals and a Tahitian flag at the airport while we waited for our flight. More people watching to do – a bottle blonde women wearing tight pink trousers-with immobile improbably large hard looking objects attached to her chest, the thick necked American chap almost certainly a sufferer from obstructive sleep apnoea, the skinny seventy’ish French speaking woman who has obviously had ‘work done’. It takes all types!
Brunch was pretty awful, couldn’t make my entertainment system work, so no movie, and Greg’s seat kept moving backwards. International air travel loses its excitement about 2 hours into a flight.
Nice to be unpacking, opening mail and reading newspapers and mentally preparing for a return to business as usual tomorrow.