French Polynesia: They Don't Have Tahiti Treat!!!

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of French Polynesia  , Society Islands,
Thursday, June 12, 2008

We arrived to the French Polynesian Island of Tahiti and were greeted in the airport by happy men in flowered shirts playing the ukulele and woman in coconut bras putting leis on people (but *still* not us, what gives!!?)  - the ambiance combined with the tropical air made us happy to be in Tahiti.  The airport was beautiful and as I sat there comfortably enjoying the music, a small group of kids from Africa I think were sneaking around me trying to take secret photos of me.  They would sit near me on the bench and have there friends take a photo of them but get me in too - I think I was one of the first white people they'd ever seen and they may have liked my hair...Anyways, I just grabbed a bunch of them and smiled happily for their cameras.  Our attempts to communicate went poorly, but it was fun anyways. 
French Polynesia is actually an overseas territory of France and, as such, they have EU passports here which is pretty cool.  It seems an appropriate trade-off though since France uses these islands for nuclear testing - the least they can do is offer a passport.
We were happy to move on from Latin America in many ways....many ways but one.  Not being able to speak French, we were literally back to square one in terms of being able to communicate with locals.  Ah well - we were only there for a short time so we just did the best we could.  Fortunately for us, we met up with an American guy in the airport that spoke French perfectly so we hooked up with him to barter down an outrageous taxi price ($100!!) to a nearby hostel where we found ourselves with the last two dorm beds at the cheapest place in town.  What is cheap in Tahiti for dorm beds?  About $50 each per night.  Seriously.  Tahiti has a lot of things going for it, but it is remarkably expensive.  That being said, their money was some of the most beautifully designed money we had seen yet - large bills, soft paper, beautiful flowers and beach scenes decorate their bills, also on the bills are dudes in canoes and ladies with straw skirts. 
The next morning we enjoyed our free breakfast with some wonderful people at the hostel.  We met several people who were on 4 week+ sailing trips coming from San Francisco and who jumped ship in Tahiti, now waiting to hitch a ride on another ship heading to New Zealand or similar.  I had a lot of respect for these people - they had to cook on these boats, sail them, clean them and get along in tight quarters all the while fighting against seasickness.  Another couple we met were from Japan, his name was Hero and they were the absolute cutest, most happy couple we may have ever met.  They had been travelling nearly a year as well and had gone through South-East Asia, Africa, South America, Australia and more, all with hardly any English and even less of the local languages.  We chatted for hours and then set off to catch the ferry heading to the nearby island of Moorea.  Moorea is a small island with many beautiful sites whereas Tahiti is quite large and expensive and time-consuming to travel around.
We arrived to Moorea with the sun shining overhead.  We picked up a few snacks and rented a scooter feeling like old-hands at this by now ;)  We tore off to loop the island but no sooner had we enjoyed our first lookout of crystal clear turquoise waters, immaculate reef and thatched-roof huts built beautifully in the water than the rain clouds settled in.  We drove a bit further stopping here and there but as we were getting pelted with giant Polynesian-sized raindrops, we felt it a good place to stop for pizza.  Yup, all the way in French Polynesia and that's what they serve - pizza, burgers, and Chinese food.  Odd. 
As the day cleared, we continued on down remote offshoots of the main road exploring farming areas, climbing twisty roads to view the islands volcanoes from up high, tasting delicious fruits from local farms, visiting a black pearl farm and just taking in the gorgeous coastal scenery around us.  The black pearl farm was mostly closed due to a private function that day, but we were still able to see many of their locally grown pearls and learn about how it's done.  They start with a special black-lipped oyster and place a nucleus inside a special gland called the gonad (yup, gonad) which the oyster then develops his black pearl around.  They repeat this process two more times, but each time they increase the nucleus size so that they yield larger pearls each time.  These special oysters do not start cultivating until they are nearly 3 years old and each pearl generation period is from1.5 to 3 years in total.  Further, they have a shorter life span versus the mussels used to create normal white pearls and, in addition to all the special cleaning and care they require, most die prematurely - over 50%.  Of the remaining 50%, some reject the nucleus and only a small portion yield pearls perfect enough to sell - all in all, less than 8%.  That of course leads to a higher price for us and as such, we didn't buy any.  Though, we've come across some black pearls since then and have realized how inexpensive they really were while there. 
We took in a beautiful sunset on the moto and took the ferry back across to Tahiti.  We were sick of the high prices already and were looking for a bargain for dinner.  We had heard of a group of caravans that set up in a parking lot near the port starting at 6pm - they set up tables and cook out of their vans and when all is said and done, they pack it all up and drive away.  Genius!! Of course, the majority of these amazing entrepreneurs were Asians.  We were in!!  We watched this place go from a deserted parking lot to a busy bustling environment, we saw entire pigs being lifted out from these vans and a make-shift rotisserie be set up, there were menu boards and full tables - it was great!  We walked around looking for the most people and the most intense looking chefs and settled for a Chinese van in the corner.  It was amazing!! And while it still cost $18 each, that was considered cheap. 

The next day we had breakfast with one of our French hostel-mates again and she started telling us a bit more about the Polynesian culture.  She was asking if we'd seen these she-men yet...We weren't sure what she meant and were pretty sure we hadn't come across to many men posing as ladies - we figured we'd have noticed for sure.  Well, as it turns out, in French Polynesia, there is a custom that the last born daughter in each family is responsible for taking care of the parents for the duration of their lives.  If the parents don't have a daughter as their last child, they simply correct that by raising their last born son as a girl.  Illogical as this may sound, it is still widely practiced today and armed with this knowledge, we saw it everywhere!!!  There is no shame or any negativity associated with this custom, it just is what it is.  As we walked we saw a gorgeous girl with an amazing body talking on her cell phone - but once within ear shot, we heard her deep voice.  As we shopped in the local markets, a she-man was helping me find the perfect dress for me.  They help their parents with all the shopping and more.  It was fascinating!  We roamed the streets taking this in, watching the older ladies sit around the central markets making their intricately beautiful flowered crowns, and learned more of the surf culture Tahiti is famous for.  Unfortunately, all the beaches were quite far from Papeete (our city) and the cost was prohibitive to get there
That night, we returned to the caravans for some good eats.  We wrongly tried another van and found it to be just horrible - my chicken was only chicken fat and skin and there were dead flies in my beans.  I pointed this out to the waitress and chef and they both refused to compensate me beyond just not paying for the beans.  It was already a rip off in the first place compared to the van the night before.  I had walked away mad and feeling ripped off which only made me more angry - I decided there was little point in feeling upset without following up with action, so I returned to the restaurant (much to Nik's dismay) and stood out front where the waitresses try to get people to come in and I told everyone who considered coming into the restaurant that there were flies in my beans and the other van was better.  After I sent away a good 10 people, I figured I had my compensation and left, but not without putting up a sign in my hostel too. 
And it was like that that we left Tahiti.  Beautiful, expensive Tahiti.  It was a nice experience, but it's doubtful it's a place we'd return to, unless of course we win the lottery.  Oh yah, and another thing, they didn't even have Tahiti Treat!!!  Do they even still make Tahiti Treat?
Affectueusement, Nicolas et Sarah
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