Saturday, March 24, 2007

Unplanned Island Life

Harold Crick: What is wrong with you? Hey, I don't want to eat nothing but pancakes, I want to live! I mean, who in their right mind--in a choice between pancakes and living--chooses pancakes?

Dr. Jules Hilbert: Harold, if you pause to think, you'd realize that that answer is inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led... and, of course, the quality of the pancakes.

I'm not even that huge of a fan of pancakes but the quote above stuck with me after watching the movie Stranger Than Fiction on our LanChile flight from Santiago to Easter Island.

Actually, after our four weeks in South America, there was something almost relaxing about the flight in general. Six hours of immersing ourselves in on-flight movies and dinner hobby-kits. LanChile is the type of airline that proves that air travel can still be comfortable and emphasizes how off track most domestic airlines are. Heck, their silverware is still metal.

I know that Sarah is excited to tell you all about Easter Island (which was a truly wonderful experience), so I'll go ahead and fast forward to Tahiti. But I will mention one thing: If you are ever hoping to watch a dramatic sunset behind a line of Moai on the beach... just make sure there are no female dogs in heat present. Having two male dogs begin fighting next to you is less than a romantic.

Beyond that little note, I'm sure that everything that Sarah says is 100% accurate. The entire island was amazing and it was truly one of the highlights of our trip. Anyhow, on to Papeete (pronouced Pah-pee-aye-te, not Pah-pete)...

Papeete, Tahiti

There's nothing quite like the sensation of arriving at midnight on an unfamilar tropical island with no hotel reservations, no cash in hand, no guide book and the knowledge that even "cheap" hotels are often over $200 a night. And that was exactly the situation Sarah and I found ourselves in as we made our way off the plane, onto the tarmac, past the eukelele players, and into Papeete's airport.

Luckily, we had heard rumors of a new airport hotel and figured we'd try our luck there. And, even more luckily, it turned out to be across the street from the airport and reasonsably priced. Ok, so the room still cost about ten times what our typical room in South America cost, but it had a comfortable bed, decor that could have passed for an Ikea showroom, and (most importantly) a hot shower. After three days of sweating on Easter Island, we were getting pretty stinky, and it was nice to feel clean again... even if we knew that we'd be instantly covered in sweat again as soon as we left the safe confines of our air-conditioned room.

The next morning, we cleaned up, got some money from the bank--thank goodness for those emergency travellers cheques--at the airport (which seemed to also serve as a sort of defacto shopping center), and hopped onto a bus into downtown Papeete. In Papeete, we made our way to the one cheap hostel we'd read about in town: Hostel Teamo (pronounced Tey-ah-mo, not Team-o).

Teamo had rooms available, but unfortunately, only dorm rooms. This was doubly unfortunate, because it was seperate dorms for males and females, effectively making it the first night Sarah and I had spent apart since the trip began. But, then again, the beds were less than half the price of the Airport Hotel, so who are we to complain.

After ditching our bags, Sarah and I swung by the Tourist Information Center, than caught a bus to the other side of the island. The bus ride (which was maybe 45 minutes long) reinforced the fact that the rest of the world considers sometime around the year 1984 to be the apex of American Music. From this point on, I will always think of Tahitian bus rides whenever I hear "You're The One That I Want" off the Grease soundtrack.

On the far side of Tahiti, Sarah and I checked out the Gauguin Musuem, which didn't actually feature any of his work, but instead talked about the artist's interest in Tahit and his life on the island. After that, we wandered over to a botanical garden across the street, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise featuring not only an amazing array of plant life, but also two tortoises from the Galapagos. After strolling through the garden for about an hour, we made our way to a nearby snack shop where we had a beer and sat on a deck overlooking the ocean.

Me at the botanical garden.
A tortoise at the garden.

Little did we know that, while watching the ocean, we were also missing the last bus back to Papeete. Drat!

Luckily, Sarah was able to talk to a woman driving a tour van and arrange for us to get a ride back into town for half the price of the tour (the tour itself was only halfway done, so it seemed fair). So when the two other middle-aged couples on the tour returned to their van from the musuem, they were probably shocked to find Sarah and I sitting in the back seat, stinking of sweat and beer, and basking in the vans air conditioning. They were all pleasant enough though, and the tour stopped at an amazing grotto that Sarah and I would have missed otherwise.

Oh, and have I mentioned the air conditioning on the bus? Tahiti is hot. And humid.

Back in town, Sarah and I decided to eat at the Roulottes. The Roulottes are about a dozen vans that set up shop in a parking lot on the wharf each night and sell a variety of dinner options ranging from crepes to Chinese food. Probably at no other place on Tahiti is the juxtoposition of Tahiti's combined French and Polynesian histories more apparent than on the menus of the Roulottes. Sitting at a plastic table, on a wharf, with fish and veal cooking on BBQs around you and French-lyric pop music filling the air is a unique experience. Though one that also reminded us of the the sort of impromtu community fair that seemed to arise in the central plazas of towns like Pisco, Peru, each night.

The Roulottes

Tahitian vanilla ice cream at the Roulottes

After dinner, the heat and time change caught up with us, and we called it an early night and retired to our seperate dorm rooms.

The next day, we woke up early and caught a catamaran ferry to Moorea, the closest neighboring island to Tahiti. While Tahiti and its port town of Papeete is more bustling and developed than one would expect, Moorea looks more like the Polynesian island one might expect to see on a postcard: white sand beaches, palm trees and steep volcanic mountains rising to misty peaks.

Arrising in Moorea (with a slightly seasick Sarah), we hopped a bus to the far side of the island, where we heard the best beaches were. And, roughly 40 minutes later, we were finally lying in the sand and splashing in the bathtub warm waters of the South Pacific. Bliss!


After lounging on the beach for several hours, we made our way back to the bus stop, where we ran into one of the other girls from Sarah's dorm: Mandy. Mandy is a UW student (pretty much every American we've run into on this trip seems to be from Seattle. I'm convinced that only Seattlites travel abroad), who arrived late the previous night after flying straight from Paris to Papeete. She was basically on a one day lay over, before heading to Auckland for a quarter of studying abroad. She seemed even more confused and lost than us (it was her first trip abroad, and her first time travelling alone after leaving friends in Paris), so we quickly became fast friends with her on the bus and ferry trip back to Papeete.

Back in Papeete, we decided to go shopping for black pearls. Because of the black sand beaches that surround Tahiti, the pearls there are a unique black color. And, since we were in Papeete, Tahiti, black pearls are available at an extra cheap price.

Sarah had hoped to buy one as her one big luxury purchase of the trip.

So, with Mandy in tow, we went to a pearl shop so Sarah could pick out the pearl of her choice. Soon, she'd settled on a single pearl in a simple silver necklace. Mandy, also swiftly lured by the siren song of the black pearls, picked out a similar necklace.

Sarah and Mandy covetting black pearls at the market (also note that they both got a little sun that day).

Unfortnately, when it came time to actually buy them, our bank card was denied. Several increasingly desperate phonecalls to the bank later, it was determined that our card had been put on hold because the bank had grown suspicious of all the purchases made abroad. This was even more frustrating to us because on three seperate occasions before leaving I'd told the bank that we would be travelling for the next seven months. The fraud department in turn explained to us that we needed to call them ever 30 days to notify them that we were still traveling, or else we'd have this happen to us every month. Unfortunately, our calling card expired before we could get the card reactived.

Here's what WaMu didn't seem to want to give us -- the colorful money of French Polynesia.

Luckily for us, disaster was averted when Mandy offered to pay for Sarah's pearl on the condition that we pay her back by the time we reached Auckland. So, in the end Sarah got her black pearl; and later we were able to reactive our cards and get Mandy her money.

So, in short, Mandy is a hero. And Washington Mutual is lame.

After all the pearl purchasing drama (which also involved a procession of cars driving past us decorated for a wedding and all blaring their horns as Sarah tried to talk on a pay phone), we decided to celebrate by all going to grab dinner at the Roulottes again.

Then, after dinner, we returned to our hostel (where Sarah and I got transfered to our own private room. Yay!) and got to bed early. The next morning, the three of us all had to get up at 4am to catch out flight to Auckland. Unfortuantely, the only bus we encountered seemed to be overflowing with late night partiers from the previous night and couldn't fit us and our backpacks. So, after standing on the curb for several minutes, a pickup pulled up and offered us a ride.

Now, in hindsight, hopping in the back of a stranger's pickup at four in the morning probably doesn't sound like the smartest move on the planet. But, after a quick and breezy ride to the airport, it seemed like the perfect end to the crazy, haphazard, but ultimately enjoyable and fortunate two days on the island of Tahiti.

Maruru Tahiti!


Timothy said...

Pickup truck rides with strangers, awesome.

And Banks are f*ckers like that. Mind you, it took my bank until I was in Chicago to reject my card the time I went around the world, and I didn't tell them a damn thing about my plans. Which is actually kinda scary.

Glad to hear you're at least on the problem now, though I'm suprised they're insisting you phone every thirty days.

Oh and everything looks *beautiful*.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

Mandy does not look very happy to have her picture taken!

Beautiful currency. I hope you are documenting the currency in other countries, too!

Did you do any snorkeling when you were in Tahiti?

The General said...

Tim (from BG), yeah, it is obnoxious that they are making us call every 30 days. I'm pretty sure I'm going to want to look into another bank when we get back. Washington Mutual (the bank we currently use) has expanded rapidly in the last couple years, and their customer service has suffered for it.

Tim (Sarah's brother), sadly the Tahitian currency is the only one we've photographed. Sarah's been holding ont a couple coins from each. But, the Tahitian currency was the first one that was so colorful and neat that we decided to photograph it.

We would have considered holding onto some... but it was so valuable (the top bil, for example is roughly worth $100), that we coupldn't really afford to.

Dan said...

Not a huge fan of pancakes?! And people say I don't have a soul.

Glad you guys are having such a great time. Love reading up on the travels.