Flying back in time
31.03.2013 - 31.03.2013
Waking up on Easter morning, I was one of the first up in the hostel and, going upstairs in the semi-darkness to the kitchen, I found several mini Easter eggs on the stairs and around the kitchen - I felt a little like a child sneaking around too early on Christmas morning. Adventure Hostel had definitely secured it's place as the best hostel I'd ever stayed in and, seeing the joints of meat and boxes of veg piled up on the kitchen tables, I was a little gutted that I wouldn't be around for their Easter dinner that evening.
Pocketing a mini-egg for later, I made some breakfast, put it in my lunch box and left for the airport. I was to spend pretty much the entire day travelling - first a flight to Auckland from Queenstown, then a four hour wait in Auckland airport, then a flight from Auckland International Airport to Papeete, French Polynesia. But I didn't mind so much that the entire day would revolve around being in airports as, although I'd leave Auckland at 4pm Sunday, I'd actually land in Papeete at 10pm the previous day meaning that I'd get a second go at Sunday. Itt did however also mean that no one would buy me an Easter egg twice this year.
I sat next to a well behaved baby for the 1hr40 flight to Auckland and it was nice to be on a plane with zero intention of jumping out of it. After landing I collected my bag before moving to the international terminal and joining a long (despite it still being almost four hours until take-off) slow moving queue full of confused seeming Pacific Islanders all with way too much baggage who shouted at each other in loud, accented but slow French.
After wandering around duty-free and several shops selling kiwi souvenirs, I resisted buying a pair of Ugg boots (I already had too much luggage (although not quite as much as my fellow passengers)) and instead did something I'd already done a little too much of in New Zealand - enjoyed a glass of wine.
I was excited to go to Tahiti, a tropical paradise home of honeymoons and over priced hotels - the famous Bora Bora is one of the many islands that make up the country - although I sincerely hoped there'd be more to it though than just a honeymoon destination.
Also, for the first time since leaving South East Asia, I was going somewhere 'different' and it was time for another adventure - I knew very little about life in the South Pacific and couldn't really imagine what non-resort life there was going to be like. But French Polynesia was somewhere I'd wanted to go for a while. I'm not exactly sure where the interest began - I think I just heard about it once and thought it sounded cool and exotic - and my interest in the Pacific Islands could be further attributed to a great book I'd read several years ago, The Sex Lives of Cannibals by Marten Van Troost - a book, perhaps disappointingly, about neither sex nor cannibals but rather an intriguing and comical account of his life on Kiribati, another collection of islands in the equatorial pacific. Whilst I didn't expect Tahiti to be anything like Kiribati, the idea of being on an island six hours flight from any sort of mainland was a fascinating one.
Since beginning my travels however, I'd also become slightly apprehensive about my choice of pacific island - my travel information source of choice is now other travel blogs leading to google searches such as 'Tahiti for backpackers blog' and 'French Polynesia budget blog'. And this research had been far from encouraging - many of the blogs I'd found generally seemed to claim that this extremely expensive collection of islands was in fact not a suitable backpacker destination mainly due to extortionate pricing of pretty much everything and the lack of any acceptable budget accommodation. But my flights were unchangeable and so I was prepared as best as I could have been - in my backpack I had eight muesli bars, three packets of instant noodles, two packets of microwave rice and a bottle of wine - admittedly not enough sustenance for the eight days I'd spend on the islands but hopefully enough to go some way towards making my time there slightly less costly than it otherwise would have been. I was still acceptably within the, admittedly relatively large, budget I'd set of my trip and I'd managed to find some seemingly passable (although that would remain to be seen), and affordable accommodation and I was determined to make the most of my time there - after all very few people have the opportunity to (or more accurately, make the decision to) visit such a place (and unfortunately I guess that many of those who do spend their time cocooned in a fancy resort seeing little of real life - as far as they're concerned they could be in Mauritius, the Caribbean or anywhere else with white sands and clear blue water).
Boarding the Air Tahiti Nui flight several hours after checking in, with a slightly fuzzy head from two afternoon glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, we were presented with a white flower, which most passengers put behind their ear, and it was then that I felt I was going someplace special. As light rain began to fall outside the plane's windows, I tucked my flower behind my right ear and looked forwards to getting to the heat and humidity of the Pacific Ocean.
Rain streamed along the windows as the plane sped along the runway next to the ocean. We followed a rainbow into the cloud-speckled sky before land disappeared below us and, sitting back with movies and more wine, we flew over hours of water. There was nothing but blue until the we left the sun behind us and arrived back in yesterday.
Just before 10pm we landed in Papeete - pronounced pap-é-té as opposed to pap-ee-ti as I'd previously thought. It was boiling especially as, under my leggings, I wore knee high flight socks! Having booked a guest house who'd promised to pick me up at the airport, I looked desperately around for a sign bearing my name but saw nothing hopeful. I waited a while but it wasn't looking promising and with no phone signal and no pacific francs to my name (the airport ATM was broken and I had just 1NZD, 5AUD, 10USD and 500 Thai bhat floating around in my bag as well as a few other bits of worthless Asian currencies) I was about to settle down for a night at the airport and deal with my predicament in the morning before, fortunately I spotted a small sign bearing my name along with two others. With a Swiss couple and an American couple, we travelled to the guest house where we were greeted by a friendly Frenchman and shown around a little in the dark before I washed and went to bed, by torch light, exhausted.
I woke early in the morning to the sound of bird song and glimpsed palm trees and familiar looking equatorial vegetation outside the window. A breakfast, I was greeted by Frederick, the french proprietor of the guest house who joked with me in excellent Franglais. After hungrily wolfing down some baguette, I went into 'town' - a long walk down a pavement-less road (Tahiti's only road, one that circumnavigates the mountainous island) to find first an ATM as I had zero local currency, and then a supermarket. At the supermarket I bought over six litres of fluid and hugged the cold bottles to my body as I walked back to the guest house in the ever increasing heat, this mission having taken close to an hour.
I was pleasantly surprised by the prices at the supermarket as one of the blogs I'd read had mentioned paying over €10 for a bottle of water - that must have been resort prices as my shopping came to less than €7. And en route to the supermarket I got my first impressions of the magical island that I'd arrived on the previous night in darkness.
Upon my return to the guest house, morning administration accomplished, I retired to the lounge area with my book. There I was joined by the Swiss couple, a girl from Biarritz and a girl from Barcelona, both who were long term residents of the guest house and had been working in the Papeete hospital, one as a nurse and the other as a physical therapist, for over a year. The common language was naturally French and I surprised myself with my level of understanding and participation give how long it had been since I was last forced to converse solely en Francais. After a couple of hours however I found myself quite exhausted and perhaps began to understand just a little of what my fellow European travellers experienced in their time in Asia and Australia having to constantly speak in English, their second language. But at the same time, I was impressed with my ability to keep up with and participate the conversation - I'd become used to often hearing German all around me but was surprised that I still understood all that was happening in French and was able to still contribute to the conversation when I wanted. It was also fascinating to listen to the girls who'd lived on the island for so long and their experiences of Polynesian life.
Around midday, mentally exhausted from so much French and with little else to do (partly because it was Easter Sunday and partly because that was just was Tahiti) I retired to the beach, just a short walk away. At the beach there wasn't a whole lot of sand (apparently that's generally the biggest disappointment for tourists visiting the islands - the lack of long white sandy beaches) but there was a beautiful park shaded by palm trees and I lay on the grass looking out over the vast lagoon that stretched hundreds of meters out to sea. The waves broke on the edge of the lagoon, some 500m away and between there and the shore was just shallow blue water and corral. In the distance, the mountainous island of Mo'orea was visible and in front of me and the Pacific Ocean stretched as far as the eye could see (and much further). This was by far the most idyllic destination of my trip so far. Whilst the locals bathed around me, I rejoiced at being back in the heat, sweating out suncream and receiving a substantial dose of vitamin D.
After an afternoon napping and reading next to the ocean, I returned to the pension, where I shared a meal and some wine with Mareline and Patrik, the Swiss couple (both professional wine-experts), talking (again in French) about our travels to date (they'd been to China, Japan and Australia and were en route to Easter Island and South America) before retiring to bed. By the time I returned to my room, which I was sharing with a couple from Taiwan, I had trouble articulating myself in English.
Whilst take one at Easter 2013 hadn't been dreadful, it had mostly been spent in airports or on aeroplanes and take two was a vast improvement.