Archive for the 'French Polynesia' Category
Sunday, November 30, 2008
We all entertain irrational dreams, that seem to sprout out of nowhere but hang on for dear life. They need not be big or impossible, only persistent. For years I dreamed of owning a red chenille couch and having a window seat that I could curl up in, and when those things actually materialized, I couldn’t believe my eyes. In this same token, I’ve always dreamed of staying in an overwater bungalow. I’m not sure where or when this dream took root, but I suspect it has to do with watching one too many shows on the Travel Channel. The idea of actually sleeping over the water, in a thatched palapa hut to call my own, completely enchanted me.
French Polynesia happens to be one of only a handful of places in the world where overwater bungalows are commonplace, and when we decided to make a three-day stopover in Tahiti on our way to Easter Island, I was dying to stay in one. A cursory glance at websites months ago revealed nightly room rates that skyrocketed towards $1,000, which I knew was impossible. As of a week ago, we still hadn’t made any reservations, and I had all but given up on this dream coming to fruition. But a few strategically-placed phone calls in the midst of low tourist season and a heightened economic world crisis revealed that an overwater bungalow could be had for as low as $300 per night. It was still a major splurge, especially by backpackers’ standards, but we decided to go for it. We made a deal with ourselves: we would live on fruit and sandwiches for three days to offset the cost of the room.
Tahiti is as fluffy as a marshmallow, the travel equivalent of watching a chick flick. The island vibes starts from the moment you board the plane. We were greeted with island tunes humming through the loudspeakers, and seats draped in every shade of blue imaginable. The flight attendants made three (three!) costume changes during the flight, but the theme was always the same: ruffles, tropical flowers, and bright colors. As we prepared to land, a video played to ready us for our arrival. After taking nearly 20 flights over the past four months, I’m accustomed to these videos by now. They usually involve a tutorial on how to fill out customs and immigration forms correctly, but this video showed three men happily strumming guitars as smiling passengers filed past. Seriously. The customs form was like none I had ever seen. There were separate check boxes for “Vacation” and “Honeymoon,” and they inquired as to what leisure activities I’d be taking part in during my stay in Tahiti.
When we disembarked the plane in the warm, humid air, I could hear the strains of tropical music wafting over the tarmac. There, at the entrance to the airport, sat three men clad in tropical-print shirts, strumming guitars, happily singing, in the dead of the night. I’m pretty sure it was the same three guys from the video. “Oh my god,” I said to Maikael, “it’s the Tahitian Welcome Wagon!” Then, a throng of women passed out flowers to tuck behind our ears. I had just stepped into the most archetypal vision of Island Paradise, which would usually make me want to puke, but instead I sniffed the fragrant flower as a broad grin stretched across my face.
After a garland of fresh flowers was placed heavily over our shoulders, we made our way to the resort, where we stayed in a basic room the first night (another part of our cost-savings plan). In the morning, we were transferred to our overwater bungalow for the next two nights, but not before making a trip to the grocery store down the block. After leaving the luxurious compound, we walked down a busy road, feeling very much like we were back in the developing world again. When we stepped into the run-down “Supermarche,” we felt as if we had stepped into a Bastille Day extravaganza. Although Tahiti is part of French Polynesia, I never stopped to consider the influence that the French might have had on this little tropical island. A giant rack of baguettes greeted us at the entrance, the sign indicating that they were sourced from at least six different boulangeries. Every single person in the grocery store had a baguette – or sometimes two – tucked into the crook of their arm. There were even extremely long plastic bags that had been specifically manufactured to accommodate the elongated loaves. Red, white, and blue bunting hung from the ceiling, and the cheese counter was overflowing with imported French brie. A long row of wine provided one choice: Bordeaux. The checkers did not speak English, and everyone in line sighed as we produced a credit card and tried to stumble our way through the transaction.
It was just like being in France, only better, because I could also buy ridiculously cheap and sweet papayas with my Bordeaux.
We loaded our goods into a broken down Heineken box and made our way back to the hotel. The overwater bunglows sat perched on a small series of boardwalks stretched over a shallow coral reef, and the water glimmered a brilliant turquoise as bright tropical fish darted amongst the dark coral. I was afraid that I’d be disappointed, that the bungalow wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but it exceeded my wildest dreams. It was the size of my first studio apartment, boasting wall-to-wall wooden shutters that could be levered to let the ocean breeze blow through. The bathtub sat snugly in a corner, providing an expansive view to Moorea, the island next to Tahiti. So not only could I take a bath, which is exciting enough for me after four months of showers, but I could take a bath and look at an island. Our private patio jutted over the water, and we proceeded to spend the next 72 hours primarily planted on our deck chairs overlooking this beautiful scene.
That night, as we slathered peanut butter and jelly on the best baguette I had ever eaten, we watched the sun set over the ocean, just beyond the reef. The sky was on fire, casting a watercolor oil slick over the water. It was one of those moments that I have from time to time on this trip, where I wonder, “Am I really here right now? Am I really living in this dream?”
There was nothing cultural or “authentic” about this part of the journey. The Tahitian dance performance that we overheard from our patio, with the drums thumping in the distance, was the closest we got to Polynesian culture. But I am bathed, read, rested, and gorged on the most buttery brie cheese imaginable.5 comments