Hello again world travelers 🙂 Tuning in again from Southern California, with my first installment from the Sister Act’s most recent adventure: New Zealand and Tahiti! I decided to split it up into two posts, because New Zealand is going to be a beast of a post on its own, and also so I could finally be a responsible writer and get something out there for you guys in a halfway reasonable amount of time. Without further ado…Tahiti!
We departed from LAX at 11:35 PM on Friday, so I rushed home from work and Lydia and consolidated packs, and thus began our longest journey together. We landed in Tahiti at five AM local time and were greeted by a wall of hot, humid air, and a very energetic bunch of Polynesian dancers accompanied by a guy with a ukulele, which went completely unappreciated by a majority of the sleep-deprived folks disembarking. Standing for over an hour in the (fairly short) customs line perked us right up, and we were good to go by seven or so when we jumped in a taxi and headed off to Manava Resort. We got all unpacked, and immediately realized that we were not exactly in for what we had expected. When we booked the stopover graciously offered as a deal from Air Tahiti Nui, my first thoughts were about the sweet snorkeling I was bound to find. The lodging we chose was based on reviews about snorkeling, but when we got there, the snorkeling portion of the pamphlet in the room had been whited out. There also was no food except the hotel restaurant anywhere nearby. But, being the problem solvers that we are, we packed a backpack full of cliff bars and took off walking down the road, just to see what we could find. We ended up at a little grocery store a good mile or so away from the resort, which happened to have really cheap snorkels for sale, as well as super fresh loaves of french bread (about 50 US cents apiece) and cheese. We returned to the hotel well stocked with knowledge, crusty bread, and snorkels, and jumped in the water.
The snorkeling near the hotel was definitely not as great as other spots on the surrounding islands, but was totally fine for our purposes. We saw a bunch of parrot and angel fish, along with ginormous sea anemones and these really strange rope-looking creatures with little fluffy tentacles that sifted things from the sand into their mouths. The current was pretty strong and the ocean was absurdly salty, so we headed back in for a little while to watch a paddle board race that was being done through the channel right next to the resort, and then decided to go to town for a look around.
The town of Papeete is pretty small, and almost everything was closed by three PM on Saturday afternoon when we arrived. The huge market building was about half full of vendors, but I still managed to find a super delicious little plantain empanada from a street cart, and we wandering for about a short time looking at the fun fabrics and various shell goodies before we decided to head over to the main harbor and take a look at the boats and people passing by. It had started to sprinkle by this time, so we just did a quick semi-long march and then headed back to the shuttle stop to catch an early one back. We had the whole next day completely open, and decided to ask the front desk about a trip to Moorea, the neighboring island, which has a ton of really great aquatic activities. Unfortunately, things work on island time very much in Tahiti, and although it wasn’t very late the travel agency that books all the tours was closed and wouldn’t be open again until tomorrow at nine AM, about four hours after that tour was to leave. There were no shuttles to Papeete the next day, so we couldn’t try to book through another agency, or just catch a ferry over from the main harbor without calling a taxi, which would have been expensive.
We opted to wait at the the hotel until the travel desk opened, and decided to do a tour of the interior of Tahiti by 4WD truck. Our guide arrived to pick us up, along with two other girls from the hotel, and after a few times running back to various rooms for swimsuits, bug repellent, sunscreen, etc we were on our way. We stopped at a couple of really amazing viewpoints overlooking the ocean, but the real magic started once we got off the highway in our guide’s hometown. He would pull over every couple minutes (sometimes more frequently) to point out various plants growing in backyards, including many types of palm trees, both ingenious and introduced varieties of hibiscus flowers, and various fruits. Soon, the houses began thinning out and the jungle crept in on both sides of the gravel road. We stopped off for a moment at a religious site, a totem to some kind of island goddess standing watch amid the taro fruit trees and mosquitos. We continued, the road winding through tree covered slopes and a low, wide river. Surprisingly, more and more people were appearing, jammed into tiny cars, squished into beds of pickups, and even once, perched precariously on the hood of a sedan making way up the bumpy road. We were obviously going somewhere.
The sight when we arrived was fascinating: a dirt pulloff crammed with lifted pickup trucks, displaying American flags and blasting Sweet Home Alabama. I wondered for a moment if I was in Fallbrook until I looked past the trucks and saw a massive, deep blue pool around the bend of a river, filled with smiling Polynesians. Our guide turned us loose in the water, then after a quick swim, when up to ridge where a picnic table full of potluck fodder was being set. We played in the impeccably clear water for some time, jumping off of rocks, and making friends with the children of one of the families playing in the water. We became human diving boards, and someone to practice Dora the Explorer-esque English on (My name is Mariel. I have four sisters and one brother. I am from French Polynesia. I speak French…). After a little while I became a little concerned with getting sunburned, and also with the fact that our guide had not been present for far longer than the 15 minutes he originally gave us in the pool.
After hanging out in the shallows for a little while, he appeared, beaconing Lydia and I up to the picnic table. On a fire pit, ten or so taro fruits (the size of a jr football) were roasting, the skin blackened and charred. A man was pulling these one by one out of the fire and skinning them with a stick which had been flattened on one end like a wide chisel. He was then handing them to another man, who separated the fruit from seed and began mashing the fruit in a long wooden trough with a large bell shaped stone. I began to understand why the taro is also called breadfruit. As he splashed the fruit mush with water and kneaded it with the stone, the fruit quickly took on the consistency of bread dough. He set it aside once it was a homogenized mushy mass and began on another fruit. Our guide explained to us that this collaboration would soon produce breadfruit pudding.
We learned that the darker yellow the taro, the sweeter the fruit, and the less sugar needs to be added to the pudding. The masher grabbed a handful of the darkest yellow fruit mush and, tossing it in a bowl, poured coconut milk on top and handed us the result. We took turns holding the bowl while the others ate the pudding, which was deliciously doughy and delightfully warm. We wrapped up our adventure after licking bowl, waved goodbye and said merci to our generous hosts, and made our way up to what was supposed to be the main even of the day: a view from the crater of the volcano. The scene was absolutely breath taking. We spent a couple minutes marveling at the lush forest as far as the eye could see between the two sides of the sweeping valley in front of us and listened to the guides explanations about migrations of the native people in search of food throughout the island before being colonized. We then loaded ourselves back into the truck bed and headed back to Papeete, with just one quick stop to buy coconuts to drink the water from on the way home.
The rest of the trip was mellow: we spent the afternoon lounging by the lagoon watching for fish and reading, ate bread and cheese for dinner, packed up, and then went to sleep in preparation for a shorter flight to Auckland very early the following day.