Final score in Tahiti: Injuries 4, Boobies 2.

November 5, 2008

I’m home after a week in French Polynesia, where life is sun and sand and 85 degrees every day. Yup, pretty much Disneyland, without the annoying mascots. Or the sticky floors. Or that damn Small World.

I brought back 400 photos of sunsets and a notebook filled with writing done on the run and now reduced to saltwater-smudged scribbles. I have three travel stories to write this week, all with a different angle.

But that writing can wait for another day (hell, it’s only money). I have a blog audience to cater to, goshdarnit, faithful readers who want the gritty shit that doesn’t get printed in family-friendly publications. Let’s get to it, shall we.

Five hour flight from Auckland to Papeete, Tahiti. I tend to sleep on long flights. I tend to snore when I sleep. It sucks to be my seatmate. Or even be on the same plane. I sound like the fifth engine. With a buggered nasal passage.

Am pleasantly surprised to find traffic on the right, after growing accustomed to driving on the left in New Zealand. It’s the French influence. Note the only traffic sign in English is STOP. Note the four McDonald’s locations. Note that is same number as the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Coincidence? I think not.

Breakfast on my first full day is courtesy of Tahiti Tourisme. It is one of five meals I score, still leaving me on the hook for 13 feedings over the course of my visit. In preparation, I have filled my suitcase with sachets of powdered soup, boxes of granola bars and packaged kits of tuna-with-crackers. Travel writers are paid AFTER their journeys, which means forking out $26 US for a continental breakfast ain’t going to happen. But — damn! — those almond croissants look yummy. I’m nearly positive they are calling out “Eat me!” but my high school French is rather rusty, so for all I know it could very well be, “Back away from the pastry table, Fat Boy!”

Am hooked up with a local driver to transport me around the island for the better part of a day. Tahiti is the largest land mass in the Society Islands and, accordingly, has the largest population. And the worst pollution. And the most rubbish to dispose of. Too many people, too many cars. Papeete reminds me of Honolulu, except everyone here speaks French instead of Japanese.

My driver is very knowledgeable — well, except for the part about not knowing every attraction I was scheduled to visit is closed on Mondays. That leaves us with more time for cruising around, during which I’m regaled with tales of how corruption and con men are ruining the country. My new friend informs me he could straighten out the entire mess with little more than an Uzi and a good aim. I keep one hand on the door handle, the other on the seatbelt release, and smile and nod. A lot.

We’re at Venus Point, which has some historical significance I quickly forget because it’s here I encounter topless women. Actually, they are the only topless women I will see on this entire trip, despite being promised acres of quivering European-suntanning-influenced bare flesh. I spot a pair of tourists flaunting their assets, but one of them quickly covers herself. It may have something to do with the way I’m frantically fiddling to attach the telephoto lens to my camera, but I can’t be positive.

A day later and I’m in the island’s interior, scrambling through lava tubes, huge holes in the mountain carved by magma after some long-ago volcanic eruption. I have shown up woefully unprepared: my swimming togs are in my bag rather than under my clothes, and my boots aren’t designed for walking in water. I’m loaned a dry suit from which — much to my dismay and despite its tag denoting an XL size — parts of me extrude in unsightly bulges. I envision an over-stuffed sausage casing and vow to ignore all croissants from now on, no matter how loudly they may cry out to be devoured.

I’m also given SCUBA shoes of some kind but protection and traction are mutually exclusive, as I discover when a misstep on a slippery rock results in a face plant. The impact liberates a chunk of flesh from my right knuckle (Injury No. 1) but it’s my pride that takes the hardest blow.

One of my guides is a young fellow whose English is as proficient as my French. I impress him by counting to 20. He impresses me by pointing out where a wild boar has trampled the grass, and then uses his fingers to mime huge tusks. The thought occurs that I never learned the French translation for “Help! I’m being gored by Babe!” Five years of school pretty much wasted.

On to Bora Bora, a quieter, more serene island, more in line with how I envision the South Pacific version of Paradise. It’s filled with lush vegetation and a teal lagoon teeming with rainbow-hued sea critters and . . . Americans. Universal Pictures has taken over the neighboring resort, much to the shock and awe of the locals, to film a romantic comedy starring, among others, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.

To my credit, I did not once give in to the urge to yell snippets of dialogue from Swingers across the lagoon.

My over-water bungalow at Le Meridien has a large panel of glass in its floor. I can either stare at the water or watch CNN’s 24-hour coverage of the run-up to the U.S. election. One proves as brain-numbing as the other. I swim under my bungalow at one point to try watching the TV through wet glass. It does not make the news any more exciting.

To my credit, I did not once give in to the urge to swim under the neighboring bungalows and stare up at the occupants like some white-blubbered, googly-eyed denizen of the deep.

Visit the turtle sanctuary at Le Meridien. Am so fascinated by saving the green sea turtle from the dinner plates of Tahitians that I fail to notice that those areas of my feet not covered by my sandals are on fire. Sunburn = Injury No. 2.

A 4×4 excursion takes us into Bora Bora’s interior, where the Americans installed seven-inch guns soon after entering World War II. They have a range of six miles. The guns on the Japanese battleships had a range of 35 miles. You do the math.

Fortunately, the war didn’t come this way, leaving the GI Joes little more to do than fire seven-inch coconuts from their batteries and impregnate the local womenfolk. Military manoeuvres, my ass. But that would help explain the brown skin and blond hair so prevalent on the island.

It’s a bouncy ride in the 4×4 and I can only prevent myself from exchanging inside the vehicle for outside the vehicle by maintaining a firm grasp on the roll bar. That firm grasp eventually develops a blister on my right thumb. (Injury No. 3).

I can access the lagoon via a metal ladder off the back deck of my bungalow. While enjoying this privilege, I somehow manage to scrape my ribs against a collection of barnacles/coral attached to the lower rungs of the ladder. The result is a red, itchy rash. (Injury No. 4).

The doors to these bungalows are heavy and tend to close of their own volition whenever the wind blows off the nearby sea. I step outside for one second and the door slams shut behind me. I am outside. My key is inside. I am outside. My shirt is inside. The spare key is at the reception desk, a five-minute walk of shame away. I came here looking for topless, but that wasn’t supposed to include me.

Leave Bora Bora filled with powdered soup, instant coffee, a suitcase of liberated toiletries and pleasant memories. Back to Tahiti for one night. Watch gendarmes operate a radar trap on the freeway, nabbing drivers travelling faster than 90 km/h.

There are speed limits in Paradise? Yeah, right. What’s next, North American doughnut shops and Hummers? Oh, wait a second, look over there . . .

To Tahiti Tourisme and Le Meridien: Thank you, merci, mauruuru.


One Response to “Final score in Tahiti: Injuries 4, Boobies 2.”

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