Tahiti, the black pearl of French Polynesia

dreamy Tahiti ...in real life at the Beachcomber

dreamy Tahiti …in real life at the Beachcomber

I carried on the French theme in Tahiti, a name synonymous with Polynesian paradise. Tahiti is just one island in the French Polynesian archipelago, the most populated one, and hosts the country’s capital Papeete. All the towns and islands have cute, alliterative names like that, and the Tahitian language was always entertaining to listen to. There are dozens of other (more scarcely) populated islands, but flying to them is almost as expensive as flying to Hawaii or the nearby Cook islands. The spaces are huge here, with the Polynesian islands scattered around a sea boundary nearly as big as Brazil, but each island is only a few kilometers wide. And just imagine that Polynesians used to cover these distances with manpower, rowing their canoes across the open sea, and happily and successfully settling the most remote, isolated islands along their way. I was happy to stick with planes and only explore 2 islands, but I did manage to couchsurf an anchored sailboat.

the Karaka sail boat

the Karaka sail boat

You can drive all the way around Tahiti in a day, including Tahiti iti, the little bubble of land on the southeast. The bottom right of that is the only part of the circle that’s not connected, and instead there’s more than 20 km of walking track through a totally wild, undeveloped area that probably looks the same as it did 300 years ago. Somehow this was my expectation of Tahiti, plus a few nearly-nude Tahitian women lazing around in Gaugin style, but I also expected to see the complete opposite – touristy resorts of bungalows reaching far out into a shallow, blue lagoons. That contradiction existed, but I ignorantly forgot there’d also be hundreds of thousands of local Polynesians living normal, modern lives there, in everything from shacks to apartments to hilltop mansions, and they drove around in lots of cars and buses and scooters and fishing boats. It’s a bustling little island, with lots to do and see, and I started to notice that although my imagination hadn’t quite painted the right picture, Tahiti was beautiful exactly they way it was, and the Polynesian people, very handsome.

Tahiti (and New Caledonia) has some special type of men called rei-rei’s, a sort of cross-dressing or feminine male, which are totally accepted into society and modern culture, and act even as a source of pride for their families. The more well-off families will spend a lot of money making their rei-rei a “true” female, with hormones and plastic surgery and the whole shebang, and then its nearly impossible to tell them apart from other females, or believe that some of them were really once men.

my hammock on deck

my hammock on deck

The boat I stayed on was anchored outside of Vairao, a tiny village near the end of the road in Tahiti iti. I woke up each day and jumped into the sea for my morning spruce up, and we bought fishes off the neighouring boats to barbeque our dinner. The buses were few and irregular to this corner of the island, so hitchhiking to get anywhere was almost a daily affair; otherwise I didn’t mind staying on the boat for hours, lazing around in my hammock, cat-napping and reading about Tahiti’s history.

The only transport I paid for my whole week there was from the airport to the Beachcomber hotel, which is only a 2km ride but it was late at night and I was tired, had just lost a day in my life (the international date line is a sneaky little thing), and I was already splurging on a night there. Staying at the InterContinental can put you back a few hundred euros, but its nearly worth it. I had to do it, it was Tahiti, and I wanted to wake up with the sea underneath me, then jump off my bungalow balcony for a salt-water bath. I’d highly recommend the same therapy to anyone else that makes the long journey here, all the way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean… unless you can manage to find Captain Tom and stay in his big, beautiful, black sail boat – the Karaka.

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