Posts Tagged ‘tiare apetahi’

1) Neck pillows rock.

It was a red-eye flight across the Pacific, 8 hours and 20 minutes. Are you old enough to remember when coach seats let you tilt back? Well, it lives only in your sweet little memory, kids. Most of coach these days lets you tilt a couple of inches—no more. Using the pillow gives your head an almost-decent place to rest, letting you get some sleep.

2) So does sticking to carry-on luggage.

Especially on a trip like this. I opted to break up the flying to avoid sitting on one airplane for 14 hours, but that also meant travelling for a longer overall time. The trip from the train, to a shuttle, to an airport, to a plane, to another airport, to another plane, to a ferry, to a shuttle bus would have flattened me  were it not for the ease of taking nothing but one small LL Bean rolling suitcase and a bag of food. So you wash your t shirts each night—no biggie. You’ll grin like a village idiot when you walk past the bleary-eyed throngs of people at the luggage carousel. And you won’t have to pay to check anything.

3) The easygoing lifestyle on the islands permeates everything.

In two of my hotel rooms, I had no phone, no clock, and no 24/7 front desk. Remember hakuna matata (‘no worries’) from The Lion King? You’re about to live it. This is good–you are there to relax, after all. Ask questions politely, get your answers, then try to chill. The first couple of days are the hardest. Then you’ll get so used to it you’ll even feel a little smug.

4) Smoke gets in your eyes.

And (with apologies to The Platters) in your lungs. Polynesians like to burn things. Coconuts, tires, their dinner in a dug-out pit in their yards–lots of things. I had a couple of nights on Moorea that were relentlessly smoky. If you’re sensitive, have asthma or another respiratory problem, you have a few options: splurge for an over-the-water bungalow, where the constant breeze will keep the smoke away; splurge for a fancy hotel, which tends to be a ‘bubble’, away from the surrounding community; or if you’re a layperson like me, just check that your hotel room is well-sealed. Thatched bungalows aren’t. When driving, watch for billowing smoke up ahead and roll up your windows till you’re past it.

5) Stray animals are everywhere.

All of the animals I came across were friendly and tame. But when driving, keep a lookout for dogs, who are as hakuna matata as the locals, and either wander with abandon into your path or don’t move from where they and their pals are sprawled in the street. Cats commonly walk through the open airports, into restaurants (yup) and into your room if you leave the door open. You’ll often see geckos (okay, not exactly stray animals) in your room. Some are tiny and extremely cute. They are shy but very quick. Keep suitcases closed to ward off stowaways.

6) Beware of online travel info that implies you can do anything in Polynesia without an expensive guided tour.

I have always rented a car in my travels and mistakenly thought it would serve me 100% of the time on the Polynesian islands. On Moorea, it did, for the most part. The marae (stone temple) hike and the view on Belvedere were memorable and accessible by car. But the hidden waterfalls I had read about are not only dry in May, but the road up was atrocious. Same goes for the vanilla and pineapple plantations. Raiatea boasts the tiare apetahi, a flower that grows nowhere else on earth, and the online tourism sites welcome visitors to go see it. But when I got to the island, I learned it requires an 8-hour, crack-of-dawn, guided hike up a steep, rocky mountain. And that’s when it’s actually in bloom. Bora Bora has WWII cannons, but they are only accessible by paying for a tour to get you there.

I splurged on a Moorea shark/ray tour and a Taha’a vanilla tour. If you can afford a lot of tours, or if you’re perfectly happy beach-bumming each day, you’ll be fine. I needed more to do, and felt hamstrung a few times b/c the interior of the islands are pretty much impenetrable without a tour.

7) Along the same lines, water activities are king.

The islands have a little shopping, some nice beaches and a lot of great food, but their real ace-in-the-hole is the water—sailing, snorkeling, motu excursions, and diving. With a few exceptions, the surf offers far more possibilities for fun than the turf.

8) The cheaper rental cars are stick shift.

Juuuust a heads up.

9) Mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

I didn’t encounter many of ‘ums. The Internet gives varying reports of critters on Polynesia that would put Dracula out of business, but I never had a problem. The trip was in late May and early June ’08, the beginning of the dry season, so that might have been a factor, plus home for me is the beach/lake, so I’m used to swatting the odd bug. The only time I found them troublesome was after hiking the interior of Moorea, which was as jungle-like as the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some travelers might be more sensitive. If you’re one of them, pack bug spray.

10) Travel guides aren’t always on target.

The Frommer’s 2008 guide recommended the “ice cold coconut milk” at a store in downtown Raiatea and listed the hours of operation. It took me two tries to get into the place because the Frommer’s hours were inaccurate, and then I was disappointed when I saw coconut milk wasn’t even on the menu. It’s minor, but this type of things happened a lot while travelling through the islands.

11) The weather was more fickle than Liz Taylor (God rest her soul).

I know, Polynesia is paradise. But sometimes it rains in paradise. Pack lightweight, roll-up-able raincoats. It can also be very windy. Bora Bora was sunny, but the wind never let up, so the beach was chilly at times.

12) There are no sidewalks.

None of the islands I visited–Moorea, Raiatea, Taha’a and Bora Bora—have sidewalks, and some streets are very narrow. Watch out for locals speeding by on scooters. They even do wheelies and stand up on those things. No joke. Admittedly fun to watch…but from a distance 🙂

13) Learn a little français before you go.

The locals speak both French and Polynesian, and most speak at least some English. Having said that, it helps to have some French in your back pocket, especially the days of the week (for understanding weather reports and days of operation) and other basics. Remember, the more remote the island, the less likely locals will know much English. And here, what the heck–some Polynesian: “Hello” is Iaorana (yo-RAH-na, with a little roll on the ‘r’, as in ‘senorita’) and “thank you” is Mauruuru (ma-ROO-roo, and roll the ‘r’ again).

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