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Tahiti: At the Doorstep of Paradise

Travels to Hawaii and So. Pacific, part 12

By Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: May 27, 2014

Tahiti: At the Doorstep of Paradise

We felt excited to arrive to the first of the three iconic French Polynesians we were scheduled to visit.

118 islands make up the French Polynesian area. Tahiti (Papeete) is one of them. It is the cultural, political and economic center of the island chain.

We docked, as usual, early in the morning in the harbor, which is the waterfront area of Tahiti (Papeete). We docked half a block from the center of the city. The population in this city is around 28,000. Since the middle of the island is mountainous, the population is thus spread along the coast.

The time we would be docked here was more than normal. The following stop was across the bay to Moorea thus the ship was scheduled to leave the port the following day at 3:00 am and arrive in Moorea in three hours. Consequently, we had the entire day to take our time and explore Papeete. The day were were in Papeete was Good Friday and many of the businesses were closed.

Before leaving home, I reserved a rental car with Hertz. We were happy to have our cool shipmates from Canada, Bob and Judy join us on our exploration. As soon as we landed, there was a free shuttle at the port waiting for us that took us directly to their rental office at the airport. It was a short 10-minute drive and the Faa'a airport seemed small. It was built in 1960 as part of the French nuclear bomb testing program in Polynesia.

During the morning hours we traveled around the island. We drove to visit a waterfall, a lighthouse and a stop to a local market. This is part of France, thus we, of course, bought bottles of French wines. Vive la France!

The primary language on the island is French and with what little I remembered, and running into persons that could speak English, we did quite well. One drives here like they do back in the States. I am not saying they drive crazy here like back home, What I am saying is that the driver side is the same and they drive on the side of the road that we are use to.

We were visiting the island and had to return to port at 1:00 pm. Trini and I were going to be picked up and taken to the scuba shop. We reserved an introductory dive for Trini and I in order to reacquaint ourselves with the diving equipment and local ocean conditions.

We have scuba dived several times in several countries (US, Mexico and Honduras). Now it was time to dive in one of the best areas in the world. We are no longer certified thus an intro dive was necessary to get back out in the ocean with tanks.

Our last dive was 6-years ago in Cancun. This dive was going to be different in that we were diving down to 10 meters (30 feet). In Cancun, we dove in shallow waters and saw turtles. Here the reef areas are large, they can be sharp plus sea life is much more diverse here.

We went on a small boat with eight other divers and three instructors/guides. Again, before I left home, I did my research and decided to contact Topdive because I could do the intro dive in Tahiti and if all went well, then I would do a two tank dive the next day, also with them, in Moorea. I loved the web site of Topdive when I saw it. It showed a picture taken from beneath the water and the camera was pointed up to a small floating craft. On the picture you see several sharks swimming about near the craft. I liked the honesty of the dive company in that they informed you quite candidly that there are sharks in the area and you had to consider that in your water exploration. I liked their honesty and sense of professionalism in their descriptions. I did email them for information and I always got a clear response thus, I felt confident going with them. You want to be with a reputable company. Diving down past 10 meters can be risky if you are not with the right guides.

We arrived at the dive site which was between the coast and the edge of the island reef. The water was a bit choppy due to slight winds but, the water was relatively warm and very clear. We jumped into the water feet first with full gear. It's quite an experience "walking out" into the water with all the gear and tanks.

We swam slowly to the front of the craft to take hold of the rope that holds the anchor below. We took turns going down the rope to the bottom. I was directed to go first while Trini waited on the surface. Once they checked me out, they brought her down. While waiting at the bottom, I had to concentrate on my breathing. If one breaths too hard, too fast you use up rapidly your tank air and you end your diving time prematurely. That's a no-no amongst experienced divers and that is the last thing you want to do diving in these incredibly beautiful turquoise-blue waters. While diving, one must constantly remember to relax, breath normally and enjoy the experience.

Once we both got comfortable at the bottom we started to explore with Frank Chasboefu and Yannick. Trini and I dived with Frank. There was plenty of sea life all around. We swam around and they took us to where they had some underwater relics. There was a couple of metal boats and a small plane at the bottom. Coral was starting to grow on them. Frank checked us out carefully and then took us around the wrecks and some nearby sites. It was fantastic. I personally love to see the exhale bubbles from my tank go to the surface. It's fascinating to see our exhaust air bubbles gently drift toward the surface.

We were underwater for half an hour and we came up with air in our tanks to spare. Awesome! We swam back to the boat and tried to get back on the boat with part of the gear. I had forgotten how difficult it is to climb back up since you have been swimming around and your legs, and your body, get tired. You see so much underwater that one forgets about the amount of energy in your body that you are using up. When one dives in cold water, one expends a great deal more energy trying to stay warm. That was not an issue in these beautiful waters. Chances are, we were going to be sore the next day since we were using muscles, while diving, that we don't normally use in everyday life. But regardless how sore I might be the next day, I was determined to dive twice in Moorea.

While Trini and I were waiting for others to surface from their dive, we simply jumped back, without any gear, into the water and swam over to a small floater they place out and we just grabbed on and simply swayed and floated in the ocean. We talked about our dive, about what we saw below and counted our blessings for our life together and what we had experienced together. The scenery across the water was extraordinary. We could see two beautiful islands, crystal clear green water, the waves breaking over the reefs and a warm wind carrying the faint scent of flowers. It was a fabulous experience.

When we reached shore and their offices, our guide showed us video clips he had taken of us while we were underwater. I look forward to posting and sharing them on YouTube. We thanked our guides and I looked forward to my next two dives the following day.

We thanked Frank for his professionalism and for shuttling us back, on their boat, to the cruise ship. We felt exhilarated and tired. We planned to get on board the ship and rest. Well, that didn't happen. We picked up our rental car and returned it at the airport. They also shuttled us back to our ship. We quickly changed and went to the buffet area for dinner. We rushed over to the ship's theater and see a Polynesian cultural dance group. It was an excellent one time presentation with 22 dancers and musicians. The large theater was full to capacity and they deservedly received a standing ovation. Thereafter, we had the choice of resting in our rooms or walking through the town. We decided on the latter.

Just outside the ship passenger disembarkation zone area was a large public open park. It was empty during the day, but now there was a batch of catering trucks lined up and each providing seating areas. They offered a wide variety of dishes that seemed local and from Asia. It seemed that all the seats were taken by ship members and local residents. We had already eaten on the ship so we passed on trying them yet there were some local food plates that did look tempting.

Next to the food area was a small, informal band playing Tahitian music with their guitars. I soon realized that one song can be ten minutes long. I closed my eyes to listen to the beautiful music and I couldn't help thinking that it had a similar sound as Mexican/So. American music. The lyrics were probably in the Tahitian dialect (Reo Maohi) and it could have easily been in Spanish and the transition would have worked. Perhaps Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer and writer of Kon-Tiki, was onto something in his 1947 raft crossing from So. America to the Polynesian islands (I didn't have time to visit the famous Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway when I was there three years ago and I will next time. The original raft and artifacts are on display. I remembered that the main ocean currents in the Southern Hemisphere, which we are now in, flow from east to west).

As the evening continued, the immediate area provided a festive mood and more families were arriving and enjoying the ambience. It was a delight to be there and enjoy the surroundings. The weather was in the low 80s thus it was very comfortable to walk around. To end this beautiful day we walked across the street and sat outside of a local microbrewery that provided street side seating. We enjoyed their local beers and hospitality. We realized that it was getting close to midnight and I had to rest. My second scuba diving trip was going to be midday and I wanted to be rested.

As I was preparing to sleep, I thought of how wonderful the day had been. Trini also shared that she enjoyed being here. Our visit to Tahiti was unique. I can't really say that we visited and saw multiple beautiful rainforest and historical sites. Most of the areas we visited were within a somewhat active urban setting. We did however have the opportunity to constantly interact with the local citizens throughout the day and they were warm and friendly. I liked how they place flowers all around. You can also easily find street vendors selling flowers and flowered headsets. Part of it may be selling to tourist but, you commonly see locals wearing them as well.

The area we visited was a modern urban setting with a beautiful Polynesian atmosphere. We explored very little and we look forward to exploring a great deal more of this volcanic and green area.

It was a great pleasure to visit and we look forward to returning.

Here is a phrase for you from Papeete: 'Aita pea pea' (not to worry)

About Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer:
Armando F Sanchez is an author and CEO of Armando F Sanchez Production. His organization produces global digital media programming.
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