Friday, December 17, 2010

My Life From 35,000 Feet

Time for a blog! It seems that my good intentions of keeping up with my blog seem to end up in the garbage with my motivation. Someday I will get it together and finally get into a proper blogging groove. But, as it is now, I am sitting on (another) plane…..headed home from very cold and snowy Minnesota. What better time than to actually put some thoughts down on the page.

This was a fairly brief trip…..4 + days. It could have been worse, that is for sure. I came to help facilitate some training of new team members and some people at our Corporate HQ. This was a nice way to finally get to meet some of the people to which I speak or email on a regular basis but have never had the pleasure of greeting in person as we are all based in remote areas…….with the obvious exception of those who work at Corp. I can easily say that our team has a great attitude, and I believe we will be able to help motivate other people within the company to increase the sense of urgency with our customers, something that is severely lacking in certain departments.

Plus, it looks like there may be a fair amount more travel coming my way in the next few months. Nothing confirmed yet, but there may be some more trips to far off lands, which I have found to be a mixed bag of emotions for me. I do really enjoy the experience and the chance to help educate our customers as well as learn from them and what they need. This helps me do my job so much better. But it is really hard for me to be away from my Gizmo and Adam for any length of time. Interesting that I have always considered myself a very independent person except when it comes to the two of them. Hmmmm. I never really thought about it until just now.

As you can tell, I am really starting to feel much better about my place on the earth right now. It isn’t perfect, but no one’s life really is. There are obviously things about my life I would like to see go differently…..everyone does…….but I really am quite happy about the experiences I have had especially in the last year. I have tried to broaden my horizons and really step out of my comfort zone with this job. I started reading for “pleasure” again…..although that is still a bit of a stretch as I really have to be into a book in order for it to keep my attention, and the fact I started with some of the classics probably wasn’t the smartest way to do that. Oh well. I have been afforded the opportunity to travel overseas on my own and experience more cultures beyond my own back yard, which is one of my favorite things to do. I have also vacationed in far off places with amazing beaches and water that I never thought I might do.

My relationship with Adam has had some severe peaks and valleys this year. That is a good thing, I suppose, because it helps us both grow. There are certainly things that I would like change within our relationship……some of which I have control over and some of which I do not……but overall we do have a solid relationship that I appreciate and cherish. I have worked hard for it, so I think I have earned it. There will always be more to work on and we will be better people for it as we grow old together.

Gizmo is getting…..well……Gizmo GOT old. Damn, she is old. It just amazes me that she is still scooting around the house in good health. Mentally she has diminished massively, but overall she is well. I appreciate her presence and the love that she has given me and the ways she has made me grow as a person over the last nearly 17 years. It is really hard to think about letting her go. I have been trying to make my peace with her departure for so many years now thinking that she would have moved on to the big carrot patch in the sky (carrots are her favorite, you know?!), but she just keeps getting older and older just to spite me. And I know a part of me will die when she does. That is hard to think about, too.

As far as a blog goes, this was not one of any great entertainment value. Sorry for that. I just opened up my computer on the plane and started typing, and this is what came out. Hmmmm……maybe I am a little homesick from being gone all week. The holiday season might have a little something to do with it to, but that is typical.
Maybe I will sit down and type up some more this weekend. We do have some fun things planned, so I am sure that will spark a bit more creativity in my brain pan.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Tattoo and Some Therapy

Adam’s big day FINALLY came, and though he would not freely admit it, he was a lot more excited than he let on. I could tell. And he should have been excited, too. It isn’t every day that one of just a handful of tattoo artists in the world that do the traditional Tahitian style tattoos (and only one of just a couple that can actually create the tattoo in the style that was done) creates an original piece of artwork for you to keep for the rest of your life.

I mentioned before that there was a surprise to come along with the tattoo. Adam originally had the tattoo scheduled for Thursday. As it turns out, James ended up getting a call regarding an interview with Nylon Magazine that was scheduled for Tuesday. And it just seemed fitting to do a traditional Tahitian style tattoo instead of a machine tattoo. Adam was next in line for the tattoo, so why not try to schedule his tattoo the day of the interview and feature his in the magazine! Cool!

Well, unfortunately it rained that morning, and the weather did not cooperate to provide enough light for decent pictures, so they rescheduled the interview. And unfortunately the next two day’s weather brought up the same issue. So the magazine interview and pics did not happen. But the tattoo certainly did!

And just to clarify, a traditional Tahitian style tattoo is not done in the way you have seen tattoos normally done with a regular needle. The tool is a specially, hand-carved bone attached to the end of a stick, which James creates himself. The application is done by repeatedly striking the back of the stick with another stick. It is the same effect, but it is a very different (and seemingly old world) way to do it. Having a few tattoos, Adam said that the pain was not necessarily any worse than having it done in the regular fashion, at least for the most part.

And as far as the artwork, James likes to meet the person who he will be tattooing and then get an idea, based on personality and a few other qualities, of what the artwork will look like. Adam ended up with a very large Tiki on his left shin that extends from ankle to knee. It would have covered his calf as well, but it took about 6 hours as it was, and that was just about Adam’s pain threshold. The Tiki, in Polynesian culture, represents protection. And if James had another day to add to it he would have added waves to the back of his calf representing travel. But now Adam will just have to go back and have James add to it at a later date.

I do find it slightly ironic that Adam has a protective Tiki on the same leg that he broke as a kid. Kind of a day late and a dollar short on that one.

But Adam is thrilled with it! And it is indeed quite cool. And another thing to add to this, there are other tattoo artists out there that have been trying to get a hold of James’ very closely guarded technique. So that really brings a special value to the work as well, even beyond the originality.

What was I doing during Adam’s six hour adventure you ask? Well, I read, I brought Adam some water during his process (as it was pretty hot out), and then I put together a barbecue for Laurel as we wanted to grill some chicken that night. Not exactly what I expected to do on my vacation. But standing in the sun for the 30 or so minutes it took me to put it together earned me some time on the beach and in the water!

I grabbed my book and headed down to the beach and planted my towel under a chestnut tree to give me just a bit of shade. I looked to the left, and then to the right, and realized that I was completely alone. No one in either direction the entire couple of hours I was there. It was rather an amazing realization to come to that I was completely alone on a beach on a very small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the entire ocean in front of me to play around in. If you ever get the chance to do the same, I highly recommend it. It is extremely therapeutic.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bugs Bunny Was a Racist Asshole

Adam and I finally took a walk down “tourist” way. We went to what would be the equivalent of a Luau in Hawaii in a little area called Tiki Village just up the way from where we are staying. We were collected by our taxi at just before 6:00pm. Not realizing how close the village was to our bungalow (we have ridden past it a dozen times on the bikes, too!) it only took us just a couple of minutes to get there and we probably could have walked.

We were dropped off at a reception area, which was in basically a little shop with various touristy items for sale, paid for the evening’s events and then escorted into the village by a local Tahitian man with a very thick accent who proceeded to attempt to teach us a few Tahitian words. Normally I eat that kind of thing up, but that night I was just not getting it as I have had to deal with 3 different languages (English, French, and Tahitian) since our arrival, and my brain was having none of it, so I kind of felt like an ass. Oh, well.

He walked us through and pointed out the different buildings as we continued down the path to the theater and restaurant area. They have several different traditional Polynesian houses built that are replicas from the Island of Marquesas, including a replica of the painter Gauguin’s house during the period he resided there. As we entered the theater area (which seats several hundred people) we immediately noticed that we were 2 of about 5 people in the entire village and started to get nervous. We were praying that there would be more people attending the event otherwise we knew we would get singled out and the whole evening would just be oddly uncomfortable.

Fortunately, as we sipped our happy hour “rum punch”…….which of course was more punch than rum…….a few more people trickled in here and there. Whew! So we started to relax a bit, took some pictures of the village, and did a little shopping in the pearl/jewelry store before it was time for the more formal tour of the village.

Of course the Master of Ceremonies had to repeat everything in both French and English, which he was quite masterful at, so my brain continued to be on full overload with the language mix. The tour began with a reveal of the traditional Tahitian feast we would be dining upon (buffet style) later in the evening. Basically they cook the meal on hot coals underground for 3 hours covered by a massive layer of banana leaves, what looked like potato sacks, and a layer of sand. Everyone ooh’ed and awed as he described the dishes to be served including the traditional Poisson Cru, various pork and chicken dishes, and a few other goodies. We were then broken up in a couple of groups based on language directly following to be given an official tour of the buildings and told about some of the different rites of passage of the Tahitian people growing up.

Obviously they separated us by language specifically so they would not have to repeat everything twice. Smart. But I also knew what was coming. I knew we were going to get stuck at tables with other people who spoke English instead of the opportunity to sit on our own or with people who didn’t speak English so we wouldn’t have to talk with them at all. I figured that out right away based on the restaurant seating near the theater. Fortunately we ended up sitting next to a delightful newlywed couple from Los Angeles (Audrey and Dean) who had just been married three days prior. Audrey broke the ice by nearly stepping on a big crab that scurried past her chair as she attempted to get up to head to the buffet. She screamed and we all laughed, and that eased things a bit. We got lucky to be sat with them.

Dinner was decent. Some of it (mostly the grilled meat) was really good. The rest was mediocre. The deserts were mostly strange and a mystery to boot because nothing was marked, so it was a big guessing game as to the identity of some of the unfamiliar (and not very likeable) fruits. It was still a good meal overall.
After dinner, and a really strange fashion show of sorts in which both a Tahitian woman and man (at separate times) danced to the live music and proceeded to take a variety of sarongs and fit them in different ways (this went on forever, by the way…..not unlike this blog!), we were collectively escorted to the theater for the dance performance.

The MC for the evening (whose Tahitian name he rattled off so fast I have no idea what it was) was quite charismatic and tried to spice things up with humor here and there. Unfortunately, and quite unintentionally, he did come across a bit racist at times. There were a smattering of Japanese tourists in the crowd, which I am guessing were all part of one group, that he singled out by continually calling out, “Hey, Japanese!” On top of that, he pulled one of the young Japanese men from the audience to demonstrate how to peel the outer husk of a coconut using a sharp stick (a LOT harder than it looks, by the way) and gently crack the coconut shell open with a rock in order to get the water from it…….which he proceeded to refer to as sake. It was definitely all in fun and by no means meant in a derogatory manner. Plus, in a strange way, maybe it helped make up for all those old 1940’s Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny-bone-through-the nose, native islander cartoons that I love so much.

As we have been to Hawaii and attended a formal luau, we have had the pleasure of seeing some of the Polynesian style dances and were actually quite looking forward to making the comparison to what we had seen in the past. The show was great. I don’t believe that the entire crew was at their best that night as there were a lot of notable missteps and dropping of flaming torch batons and some giggling, especially towards the end, but nonetheless it was an impressive show.

Oh, and I forgot to add the part about the audience participation. They had the women (those who would participate, of course) come down to the floor and do a dance a la Polynesian style (with the hip movements) in front of the audience. Adam, Dean and I all barked at Audrey to get her to do it knowing full well that our turn would unfortunately come, which it inevitably did………and even Adam participated! The men had to do more of a knee swinging, foot stomping thing that you will have to see later. Yes, we have pictures. Be afraid. I actually handed our camera to Audrey as we left our seats so she could take a couple of shots. Adam was mortified, but I still think deep down he enjoyed it.

I do have to say that it was nice to see performers of all shapes and sizes. They were obviously all Tahitian (or appeared so to us), but none had that formal model body that is in every magazine advertisement and on TV. Some (both men and women) had plenty of meat on their bones, and I appreciated it as it was realistic. And body style is not of any concern here. I am usually quite uncomfortable in my own skin and especially without my shirt on, but that has not been any issue here thankfully because it is too damned hot! Although, if I did live here, you can guarantee that I would be significantly thinner, tanner and in better shape!

Anyway, overall it was a fun night. And a late one for us…….the latest so far. We were out past 10:00! Man, we are getting old.

Once again we were woken up to the sound of rain. And I don’t just mean a little drip from the sky kind of rain………I am talking rain of Biblical proportions……and some serious thunder and lightning to go with it! I love thunder storms, and have since I was a kid and experienced my first in Oklahoma, so this was great! But it was very short lived. There were less than half a dozen flashes and crashes, but still well worth noting.

The rest of the day was completely cloudy and very humid, but we did not see the rain (or more lightening and consequent thunder) until late in the afternoon. We even took ourselves to the beach for a while to pass the time earlier in the day even though the sun never broke. The warm water felt really nice counterbalancing the humidity actually.

And I have been uncharacteristically exhausted today. Right after breakfast I put my head back on my pillow for about 20 minutes just to ditch the last of my sleepiness……..until we came back from the beach and started reading. Then I sacked out for another 30+ minutes. I am guessing it is a combination of the humidity, activity, and relaxation that are doing it to me.

With just a few days left (and tomorrow is officially Adam’s big tattoo day!!!) we are hoping for at least one more day of sun. I would like to get just a bit more color on me. And I do have a little bit. Adam, of course, looks like a native.

The Death of Club Med

I got the scoop on the closure of Club Med. Laurel was kind enough to drive me to the bank to get some cash when she had to pick up the kids from school. Because we had to go about 1/3rd the way around the island for this errand this allowed us some time to chat and get to know each other a bit better. Plus, I was afforded the opportunity to ask her some questions regarding the local area as she has lived here for 10 years. Because she is in the travel industry AND she is married to a “local” (although I believe James is actually from Marquesas Island), it was a topic close to home for her.

The land Club Med was situated on is owned by 8 different families on Moorea, including a large portion by James’ adopted family. James left home at a very early age and was taken in after coming to Moorea by a local family. They have been his adopted family ever since. Anyway, the land was leased to Club Med by these families with the restriction that the resort would only grow so large. Unfortunately Club Med continued to build bungalows well beyond what was agreed upon with no increase in rent, so the families simply pulled the plug and kicked them out. Just like that.

Here’s the thing about how that is not a big surprise in French Polynesia: the Tahitians are NOT at all motivated by money. It is entirely about family. Once they felt taken advantage of the families decided that Club Med was no longer welcome without regard to the loss of money. Unfortunately, the local economy did suffer because of this decision. Laurel stated that approximately 100 people lost work and the area shops and restaurants fell on hard times. 100 people does not sound like much, but when you are talking about an island population of several thousand people, it really is substantial. She also stated that no one really seemed to be effected by the change either. The locals were happy for the families to have reclaimed their land.

From a traveler’s and travel industry point of view, it was a big loss. Laurel stated that she had the pleasure of staying at that particular resort at one time and it was really quite nice and a really good deal. Also, the club still sits rotting on the land nearly 10 years later. Other area hotels have great interest, but the families have no intention (at least at this point) to pursue that venture again. And it is a bit of an eyesore. But she can really see both sides of it, and it was interesting listening to her talk about it, especially from the local/family perspective.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 6 - The Tour

We have learned a few things in the last few days as well as come to some conclusions. First of all, we finally came to the conclusion that Moorea pretty much shuts down with the setting of the sun, at least for the most part. This is also why the islanders get up so early, too. There are no street lights to speak of on the island with the exception of a couple of very brief strips near the resort areas, and those really only go for a couple of blocks. So it is pitch black once the sun sets. Plus, there really is no night life on the island, so aside from the barking dogs, occasional car and the stupid roosters, it is pretty quiet after dark. We have been eating dinner about our normal time (6:30pm or so), and as soon as we clean up from that we find the darkness just sucks the life out of us!

One thing we have learned is that there were no cemeteries on Moorea up until 5 years ago. Because a lot of the property on the island has been owned by a single family for so many years they simply bury their dead family members on the property. One would not necessarily consider that any big deal, but the problems that do arise come up when the house goes to be sold. Having someone else’s dead family buried on your land seems to be quite the turn-off to potential homebuyers and, therefore, it can be quite difficult to sell a house because of it. This little factoid came up yesterday on our tour of the island, which was one of the best things we have done since we arrived.

Our tour was with 3 other couples (all French), most of who spoke English quite well. Our guide (also French) was kind enough to lead the tour speaking English but took the time to cover the details in French as well when necessary for the couple whose English was a bit weak. Each couple followed single file on our 4-wheel ATV’s behind the guide as he paraded us all over the island! We took a tour up into the center of Moorea, which is in fact one giant volcanic crater. We made stops all over the place getting all kinds of information about the plant life, especially the fruit and trees. First of all, I did not know that the Pineapple is native to Brazil, and if it is growing in any other place than that it was obviously introduced at some point in history. There are also Fir trees on Tahiti that were introduced by the Europeans way back when specifically so they would be able to have wood with which to build homes.

We stopped at the Agricultural School of French Polynesia along the way and were treated at the juice bar. I had a big glass of pineapple and grapefruit juice, which was fantastic! The grapefruit here is different than in the US. It is the same as the Pommelo (spelling??) of South East Asia, which is similar in size to our grapefruit but green on both the inside and outside. They also make jam out of pretty much everything, including the Tahitian Gardenia and Hibiscus flowers, which we also sampled. It was actually more like honey than jam, as it was thin and runny.
Our half-day adventure continued up and down mountains with various stops along the way to take snapshots. The views of the canopy, the crater walls (mountains), and the ocean bays were just breathtaking. We took a ton of pictures! And it only rained on us for just a moment at the top of one of the mountains, so we had a perfect day for the tour. It was quite the experience and we are so very glad we booked it.

I have to say that I did hesitate for just a second when I took a look at the seat on the ATV and thought it was going to be hard as a rock. Don’t forget, my butt was beyond sore from yesterday’s bike expedition! But, upon sitting gingerly on the seat, it was soft as a pillow! Aaaaaahhhhhh. Thank goodness!

As the tour ended at lunch time, we came back to the bungalow for a bite to eat, and then (delicately) hopped on the bikes and headed down the street to the beach to soak up more sun. The beach was completely empty. We were it! There was one Tahitian gentleman that made a brief appearance with his two dogs to take a quick dip in the water to cool off. His dogs took advantage of the water and quick roll in the sand (to help get rid of the bugs, I am sure), and then they all disappeared leaving us with a couple of hours of total silence on the beach.

After a big plate of spaghetti for dinner, I tried to read for a bit. Gulliver’s Travels is an extremely entertaining book, at least in my opinion………I suggest you pick it up at some point. But, as much as it held my interest, I was exhausted from the last two day’s adventures. I could not keep my eyes open and proceeded to hit the hay at 8:15.

I mentioned to Adam as we were lying in bed that is seemed unusually quiet that evening. No dogs barking, no birds chirping, no roosters crowing……nothing. Not 30 seconds after I said that there was a major altercation between two of Laurel’s dogs right outside the fence that set off the entire dog population on the island! Once Laurel separated her dogs, you could hear barking and howling from every direction that took several minutes to finally die down. Once it did I was out like a light!
I did wake up to a torrential downpour at about 4:00am though. It was crazy!!! It lasted for quite a long time, too. Over the next couple of hours it died down and came back in several waves, finally stopping just after breakfast. Today was supposed to be Adam’s tattoo day, but that has now been pushed back out to Thursday, much to Adam’s dismay. Hopefully the rain clouds will continue to retreat in order for us to take advantage of the peaceful beach.

Day 5 – Look Ma, No Brain Cells!

Sunday started off with a very early rise from bed (at least for me) to head to the market down the way in search of baguettes and possibly some pastries as we had finished what was provided to us by Laurel on day 3, I believe. Considering I sacked out at about 9:00pm the night before (and 6 hours sleep usually recharges me fairly well), the 5:30am rise from bed was not any issue……at least for me anyway. Adam was out at just after 8:00pm and didn’t even realize I had left when I did go to the market, nothing new there.

Anyway, I meandered down the road (half-awake……I was still kind of groggy), and continued to get nervous watching all the bundles of bread pass me going the opposite direction on bikes, in cars, and on foot. The market opened at 5:30 and I wanted to get there early in hopes of getting pastries more than anything. Fortunately, upon my arrival, there were plenty left. And the owner (who speaks perfect English) was kind enough to take pity on me and help me select a few things. Most everything is labeled in French (and my French sucks on a good day), so I most certainly appreciated the assistance. Best of all they had a table full of little trays of locally made dishes available only on Sunday. So she walked me through the different dishes and let me know what each was………and I kind of wonder if she expected me to turn my nose up at most of it wondering how adventurous my American eating habits may or may not be. There was a Tahitian dish called Poisson Cru (pronounced Pwe-san Crew with the accent on the first syllable) which is basically like a fish curry (made with Marlin in this case), plus a tapioca dish, more chow mien, and several other dishes that just didn’t catch my eye in my half awake state. I stated that we were always ready to try the local dishes so, I settled on the Poisson Cru thinking it might be a really good dish for dinner that night, along with our two fresh (still warm!) baguettes and 4 pastries, and scuttled back to the bungalow.

Adam, of course said the night before that he would go to the store in the morning to get the bread, but knowing the time he crashed out (and knowing that he tends to get up considerably later than I when he has the chance to sleep in) I knew it would be up to me to get there early to get the goodies. Nonetheless, as I walked back in the door, he greeted me just as I thought he would. He lifted his head from the pillow and said, “Where did you go??” Typical. But he got up right away.

Oddly enough neither of us was incredibly hungry after the very tasty shrimp (with ginger and garlic) and steamed broccoli I had made the night before, so we simply settled on some hard boiled eggs and some bread, a pastry, and some fruit. We have been snagging papayas from the trees in the yard, so they are starting to pile up on the counter. I am quite glad to eat them, too!

We decided to get on the bikes and head up the road a couple of miles to a place where James’ family (Laurel’s husband) rents kayaks. From there we would be able to cross the water to the Motu just across the way, basically a small island, where it is reported we would see a plethora of rays and sharks. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, there was no one around except for on lone Tahitian man raking the area next to the little shack of a house on the property. Naturally he spoke NO English, but I managed to communicate enough with him in French to figure out that there would be someone around at 2:00pm. I was rather proud of myself, but only momentarily realizing that it was still quite early…….not even 10:00am. So we very disappointingly bailed on that plan for the day and continued on the bikes up the road just a bit before deciding to head back towards the bungalow for Plan B. We ended up at a beach about a mile south of the bungalow next to a restaurant called Pineapple Beach, which is owned by a very nice French gentleman (I spoke with him for a minute) and reportedly has great food (I think we will go later in the week). We parked the bikes and hit the water because by this time we were getting hot from riding.

Adam had read that the sand in this area was actually brought in, which we thought was a little odd but very nice! I had mentioned before that the sand in Tahiti is very course and rocky, so this very fine white sand allowed us a bit of a reprieve from the delicate footsteps we had become accustomed to taking on our normal spot.
We immediately got in the water to cool off a bit then laid in the sun to absorb some more heat. Time to snorkel!!!! I can’t seem to get enough of it. I spent a lot of time out among the reef, probably more than I really should, taking in the all the colors of coral and different fish. Again, I was still hoping to catch a glimpse of some sharks, or perhaps even an octopus, but no such luck today.

What is that I see, a rain cloud coming over the mountain? It must be lunch time. We packed up our gear and zipped back to the bungalow on our bikes. It only sprinkled a bit, but we were hungry by this time anyway and were glad to inhale our chow mien sandwiches we picked up the day before.

Let’s get back on the bikes and continue down the road a bit! We slathered on another coat of sunscreen and hit the road. Mind you, my butt was killing me from the damned bike seat (which is all torn up) on the bike I was riding. So I didn’t think I would last too long, but was glad to see more scenery.

Here is where all brain cells stopped functioning properly. I was smart enough to bring a t-shirt with me, just in case, but I did not bring my baseball cap. We also did not bring any water with us as we only planned on venturing down the road a bit. I am still not sure what the hell got into me, but let’s just say that we went WAY further than we should have without additional sunscreen, water, said baseball cap, perhaps even a parasol, and any common sense. I will take the blame however as I was in the lead. I won’t bother to tell you just how far we actually went in order to avoid the backlash of comments about this particularly stupid move, but suffice it to say that my ass is killing me from that bike! Fortunately I did not burn the crap out of myself. Adam got a bit on the cooked side, but again, he is quite fortunate to not have been burned to a crisp as he had no shirt with him. I at least had the opportunity to take the shirt that I had with me, dip in into the ocean, and wrap it around my head and cover my shoulders……..a sight that the locals thought was quite funny actually.

If there had been a day to pray for rain, this would have been the one. Wouldn’t you know it that not a single drop fell from the sky the whole time when it really would have helped us the most.

Beyond the stupidity, we got some incredible pictures and got to see most of the remaining portion of the island we had not yet seen. And, man, is it so incredibly beautiful. Plus, I have never seen anything like the water view we got to experience. Picture a crystal clear shoreline that extends about 100 or 200 feet, followed by a stretch of amazing vibrant turquoise blue water for another couple hundred feet, and then followed by the most incredible emerald green sparkling water beyond that. If I had not seen it for myself I would never have believed it existed. And we got some pictures too……hopefully they will do the view justice.
We also got lucky on the way back to the bungalow that (at 3:00pm) various markets opened along the way. Since it was Sunday most everything was closed everywhere after the very early morning and for the rest of the day. We stopped at the first one we saw that was open and grabbed a couple of bottled waters, which we immediately inhaled. It is a good thing, too.

The day ended with a (nice cool) shower to scrub off the several layers of sweat, salt water and copious amounts of sunscreen from the day, followed by a nice long chat with Laurel, and then finally dinner. The Poisson Cru was amazing! Laurel said that she doesn’t particularly care for the Poisson Cru from the market as it has a taste that doesn’t appeal to her. But we both absolutely loved it, so we are now dying to try the more proper dish in one of the local restaurants to make the comparison.

I am now going to take my very sore and tired butt to bed. We have a half-day island tour adventure planned for tomorrow, so stay tuned for more! Oh, and Adam‘s tattoo experience has been moved up to Tuesday……..and there is some VERY extra special news about that. But you will just have to come back to find out what it is!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 4 - The Rain

As I mentioned in a previous post, it rained on and off during the night and continued to do so up until breakfast. We thought we might catch a break today, so we hopped on bikes (provided for us at the bungalow) and headed up the road a couple of kilometers to Le Petite Village. Of course we didn’t even get out of the driveway before the rain started coming down……and, boy, did it ever! We got dumped on before we even got ½ mile up the road. So we stopped and took cover under a tree for a few minutes to let it pass and then continued our quest. Naturally we were pretty wet, and the rear tires were kicking water and dirt all up and down our backs, but who cares!? We are riding bikes (in the rain) in Tahiti!!!

Le Petite Village is just a small shopping area with a handful of shops, a small grocery/convenience store, a gas station and a couple of very small restaurants. Our main purpose was really to use the cash machine, which once again, failed us. We are finding that to be an issue. We have been told that certain cash machines work for some people and others do not. We, unfortunately, are of the not……….so hopefully it will not pose a cash flow issue in the next few days. But we will figure it out.

After our failed attempt at the ATM we checked out the shops. Lots of t-shirts, post cards, and touristy stuff you would expect. There were also a whole lot of carved items like tiki statue made out of wood or lava rock. Plus, there was plenty of jewelry, too. We did find one particular store that had several carved pieces that caught our eye, but we decided to wait on it and come back later in the week if in fact we decided to splurge on something fancy for the house.

A quick trip through the grocery for some shrimp for dinner, and some Nutella to go with our daily bread (as well as appease Adam’s guilty pleasure!), and we hopped back on our bikes and continued up the road just a bit. We passed the old Club Med resort that has long since been closed. We could see the dilapidated bungalows and grown-over tennis courts beyond the fence line and realized that is what the location must have been. I am curious how severely it affected the local economy when it closed simply because there is truly very little in the area……so few stores, so few restaurants. Which begat what? Did Club Med close because the area is kind of remote and does not offer a bounty of options to tourists, or are there fewer shops/restaurants due to Club Meds disappearance? I will have to check into that.
Back on the bikes to head back to our home away from home and have some lunch. It sprinkled on us a bit, but neither of us really cared. The view is absolutely magnificent. The mountains are incredibly lush and green, the palm trees are tall and full of fruit, and the vines and flowers are mesmerizing. I am not quite sure how it happened, but we did not take one single picture along the way. That will be remedied in the next couple of days, I am sure.

Once we returned to the bungalow it POURED! Granted it only lasted a few minutes, but it came down and then we got some thunder with it. We had yet to experience that, so it was rather exhilarating. Even with all the rain, the sun still seems to fight its way through the clouds and brighten everything around us. So it isn’t like a gloomy rainy day in Seattle. It is absolutely beautiful, and I keep finding myself distracted by all the colors and swaying of the palms outside. I am also dying to get back to the beach, so that is the only thing making me a little antsy today. It feels so good to be relaxed, just hanging out reading, listening to the iPod, watching the rain fall, listening to the Myna Birds (and the damn roosters……yes, even in the rain they won’t shut their beaks!), hearing the occasional coconut fall from a palm and hit the ground with a big thud (you have to be careful under those), and watching the sun illuminate the mountains in the distance and the colors all around us.

It is still very early in the day, and since I don’t think the beach will happen for quite a while today if at all, I will go and sit myself down with my next book. I just finished Lord of the Flies yesterday (good book…..quick and easy read), so I am going to dive into Gulliver’s Travels today. Both seemed appropriate selections for the trip. Let’s hope that neither is at all prophetic. So far Adam has shown no signs of putting on war paint and throwing spears at me, so I think we are good.

Settling In

A couple of days in and we have not really begun a routine as such, at least not beyond taking our sweet time getting out of bed and then making breakfast. I don’t think that will change at all the entire time we are here. We do have a few things planned for upcoming days (Adam’s tattoo, an island tour, a Polynesian feast at Tiki Village), but otherwise we basically play every day by ear. For me, more than anything, I cannot seem to keep my mind off the water especially after having had the experience with the sting rays. Now I am dying to see some black-tip reef sharks! I know they are out there, but so far they have eluded me. Soon….soon.

We have gone to dinner the last two nights, both locations recommended by Laurel, so we knew we would not be steered wrong. The first night was at a restaurant run by the Mother of a friend of hers. It was called Irene Restaurant. Essentially it is a small, open air restaurant, with just a handful of tables. It was more of an experience of going out for a home cooked meal than going out for a restaurant meal. I hope that makes sense, but that is the only way to explain it. Anyway, the food was great! I had some shrimp and Adam had Mahi Mahi in curry sauce. The menus list everything in both French and English, so I took it upon myself to (massacre the language!) order for the both of us in French. I think I managed well……they brought out what I ordered anyway, so I guess I should not question it. Adam actually mentioned to me that he was glad that I spoke at least a tiny bit of French as it made him a little more comfortable. And he even said that he thought it was cute that I ordered for him, too.

The next night we went to The Mayflower, another small open-aired place with a very friendly vibe and a wide range of French cuisine. Let me just say this right now………..Adam and I both declared this was one of the all time BEST meals we had EVER eaten in any restaurant. Seriously. We could not stop talking about it. We started with some Foie Grois and mushrooms in a cream sauce which absolutely melted in your mouth. I had a gigantic duck breast in a balsamic reduction with some scalloped potatoes and Adam once again had Mahi Mahi in a tarragon cream sauce. Of course we shared a nice bottle of red wine and just drooled all the way through the course. There was no way we were going to eat in a French restaurant and not have dessert, so after much deliberation I finally decided on the assortment of sorbet stuffed fresh fruit and Adam had the profiteroles, essentially cream puffs with vanilla ice cream on the most delicious chocolate sauce this side of Willy Wonka’s factory. The sorbet was amazing and I could not stop eating. Truly the desserts were huge and we could easily have ordered one and shared the portion……..forget that! I want my own! And, quite frankly, I would have eaten 5 more had I been able to put it away! There were 6 different sorbets on mine, including papaya, lemon, lime, banana, pineapple, and one other citrus type of fruit that I cannot think of the name. Each was served in the shell of the actual fruit from which it came and all was set on flowers. Like a dumbass I didn’t bring the camera! Ugh! Big mistake, but oh well. Maybe we’ll have to go back.

I have been diving into the fruit, at least somewhat. I really am not partial to bananas, but I eat them after a work out to keep from cramping. The bananas here are off the chart amazing. And let me tell you, that banana sorbet was like nothing I have ever tasted in my life! So fantastic! Plus, I cut into a Papaya that we picked from a tree in the yard a couple of days ago………..I ate the whole thing! Well, I did it in two sittings because I would have been sick had I eaten the whole thing at once, but it was just delectable. Plus we have had some amazing kiwis from the market each morning that just explode with flavor.

The interesting thing is that Adam cannot stay out of the fruit juice. He doesn’t particularly like juice at all, from pretty much any fruit. He does eat a lot of fruit, but won’t go out of his way to drink orange juice or anything. Of course there are a ton of different fruit juices available, and he keeps heading for the mixed kind. We will definitely miss the fresh fruit and assortment of local fruit juice when we leave.

Now it is just about time to head back to said market for some more fruit, juice and beer!


So, as we have been here for several days soaking up rays and tropical beauty, there are a number of details that were not included in the previous posts. Yes, I know. They were both quite lengthy (what else would you expect from me??!!), but there was no way to include everything. Here are some additional observations that we have made since our arrival:

• It has rained every day (at least once) since we have arrived. We have arrived at the very beginning of the rainy season (and off-peak travel time), so it is to be expected. It tends to happen around noon, which we found odd. Not being quite sure if it was a coincidence, we asked Laurel about the timing and she confirmed that it was indeed a coincidence. Fortunately for us we had spent a couple hours at the beach each morning and, upon noticing the encroaching storm clouds ready to rain on our parade, we ventured back to our little bungalow for some (more) brie, salami and munchies, and some afternoon relaxation with some reading…….and a nap.

o We are on day 4 today and it rained part of the night and up until breakfast. We were hoping to get to the beach immediately following our breakfast clean up, but it isn’t looking good. Plus we have a few things scheduled today, so we’ll see how much beach time we get. The rain sneaks up on you very quickly, and you have to sit back and wait a few to make sure that it won’t linger. Nevertheless it doesn’t linger long. So there is always hope.

• There are dogs everywhere. Laurel has 4 – 2 Pit Bulls, a Pit Bull mix, and a Cocker Spaniel named Lucy. All are about the sweetest dogs you could imagine. Yesterday we had a welcoming committee on our porch as we sat down for breakfast. Lucy had snuck under the doors to the yard and the Pit Bull (whose name I cannot recall at the moment) simply pushed the door open. They know they are not allowed in the bungalow itself, so they were content to sit on the patio in front of the open doors and watch us eat knowing that we would eventually come to greet them.

o Side note about the dogs: we love them…….but they are FILTHY! A dust cloud follows each one along with a swarm of fleas and other bugs. BUT, they really are the sweetest dogs you could imagine and, being dog fans, it is really hard not to greet them as excitedly as they greet you each time you cross paths……….except we go and quickly wash our hands immediately following.

• There are chicken and roosters EVERYWHERE! Each way you look you see something pecking the ground or scurrying across the yard. And there is the constant sound of clucking and crowing all the time.

o The roosters either have no sense of time or they are just plain assholes. There is what I affectionately refer to as the “rooster chorus” that takes place AT LEAST once a night. Most of the time it is at dawn, or more likely just before, that echoes like a massive wave across the entire island. You hear one rooster crow and immediately following you hear the entire poultry population on the island go ape-shit, but it travels in this big wave that you can hear in the distance. It was pretty cool the first day, not so much the second……..especially since the second night the rooster in our yard decided (in the middle of the night) he had something to say. Of course, the rest of his friends on the island responded, but it was short lived. I think one of his friends had sense enough to tell him to shut his pecker and go back to bed.

• Along with the massive poultry population, there are Myna birds everywhere, too. They chirp, whistle, sing and cackle all the time while darting between thatched roofs searching for goodies to eat. I am assuming they eat not only the bugs, but the copious amounts of fruit and lizards found everywhere. I am also assuming the lizards are some type of gecko, but we have not been able to get close enough to them to verify that. They tend to be about 3 or 4 inches long and dart across the ceiling and walls of the bungalow like a bullet. That is another similarity to our adventure in Cambodia.

• I mentioned how expensive food is at the market, but never really gave you a solid idea of what I meant. Here is a good example. A single bell pepper cost about 420 Polynesian Francs. That is nearly $5.00 as the exchange is currently 85 Francs to every 1 Dollar. Let’s see……a bag of taro chips was nearly $10.00. A liter of Coke runs about $4.00. Fruit juice isn’t too bad…….closer to about $3.00 for a small container……..and it is sooooo worth it, too. Bread is super cheap. A 3-foot baguette (assuming you get to the market in time to get one!) is less than 1 American Dollar. You see people on their bikes with a huge bundle of them. Plus, with the humidity here, they last a couple of days on the counter without getting hard or going stale. The point of all this is that for a single (small bag) of groceries you will be lucky to get away with paying $50.00. So basic grocery shopping is quite pricey.

o In comparison, we discovered that eating out is actually a tad more affordable. We have gone out to dinner twice in the since our arrival. Both times we paid more than $100.00 dollars, but that included a bottle of wine. Plus all taxes and gratuity are included in the meal, so it really isn’t much different than what we would have paid in a nice restaurant back home. Also, since we have limited mobility, most restaurants have a taxi service that will pick you up and drop you off. Some don’t charge anything, and some charge about $12.00 for the pick up only and will delivery you back for free. Pretty smart way to make sure you have some people in your restaurant.

• Oh, I forgot to mention the sandwiches at the market. They take the baguettes cut them down to one foot sections and fill them with all sorts of stuff. A couple of examples were just a simple beef or pork sandwich. But they also had an omelet one and chow mien! It seemed so strange, but we had to get one……and it was delicious. Who knew that a chow mien sandwich would be so tasty?

• The Tahitian people are incredibly friendly. They always smile at you and don’t ever seem to be put off by our presence as tourists. Nor do they make fun of my severely poor attempts at speaking French (mostly ordering food). You also have to understand that the only time we see other tourists for the most part is either when they drive by us on the road or we are in a restaurant. We are pretty immersed in the Tahitian culture at the moment just based on the fact we did not stay at a resort. We are so glad we made that choice, too.

I promise that pictures will eventually come. It may not happen until we get back as our internet connection is so incredibly poor it would literally take hours just to load a few. I would rather spend that time on the beach and taking more pictures!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 2: The Arrival

2 hours prior to landing the lights came on and everyone started to rise from their slumber. Breakfast was served and the cabin began to buzz with anticipation of our arrival. We touched the ground as the sun came up at 5:00am…….about 30 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Adam had pre-booked all transportation from and back to the airport, so we just needed to find our names and begin the adventure. Unfortunately the ferry we booked to take us to the island of Moorea (our final destination) was not scheduled to leave until 7:30am. So we had to wait a good hour before our ride to the ferry dock was due to leave. Once arriving at the ferry dock we had to wait another long and painful hour before the ferry would actually depart. Ugh! So we stood around and the ferry dock realizing the increase in the morning heat as the time ticked ever so slowly by.

A couple of notations that I made right away were that Tahiti reminds me of Hawaii and Cambodia all rolled into one. It is obviously very tropical, and you get that view immediately upon exiting the airport terminal, looking in to the lush green scenery on the mountains in front of you. And the fact that it is French Polynesia you notice certain architecture as you spy the buildings along the way that immediately brought me back to Phnom Penh.

Once we finally got on the ferry and scooted out over the water, we took our seats on the top deck of the boat in order to get a really good look at the surroundings. We even saw our plane lift off the oceanside runway on its next leg to Auckland, New Zealand. Upon our docking at the ferry terminal in Moorea you cannot help but inhale the scenery of luscious green everywhere you look…….except the water. The water in the little harbor was so amazingly crystal clear and turquoise in the sunlight……….like nothing I have ever seen before. What an amazing sensory overload to start with.
The ferry dock was on the complete opposite side of the island from our reserved bungalow, and there were 3 other couples in our van to be dropped off along the way. Because of that our driver took the north route over the island (the super long way), which afforded us the opportunity to take in more lush green to the left and turquoise to the right. Amazing! Some of the couples were dropped at resort places that had the overwater bungalows, which were quite a sight to see in person. And knowing we were doing something different than most (nothing unusual for us on an excursion) we felt no disappointment at all. In fact, I think it made us all that more excited to get to Te Nunoa……..our little bungalow in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, we arrived at Te Nunoa, a piece of private land owned by a couple named Laurel and James along with their two kids, Fiona and Dushon. Laurel is American, owns and operates a Tahitian travel company along with Te Nunoa (our private bungalow on their property), and James is a tattoo artists………one of 3 left in the Tahitian islands that specializes in traditional Tahitian style tattoos. He uses a stick with a sharpened bone which he rapidly taps across the skin to apply the ink. Pretty amazing, actually, and Adam is scheduled to get one towards the end of our trip!

As we pulled up Laurel met us with much enthusiasm. Adam and Laurel had begun an email friendship over the last 6 months, so we were all excited to finally meet. Unfortunately there has been a major outbreak of conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) on the island, which is apparently a somewhat common occurrence, and Laurel and the kids had been suffering with it for a few days, so our greetings were at a distance with no hugs. All the same we were still thrilled to finally meet in person. She gave us the full tour of our home for the next 10 days………a big, thatch-roof structure surrounded by a tall bamboo fence and amazing landscaping with ample fruit trees (coconut, passion fruit, banana, and papaya) and a rainbow of colorful flowers every direction you looked. Yes, there is even a hammock tied between to palms in the corner of the property! Everything you would imagine.

Inside we found a small kitchen, a huge platform king sized bed with mosquito netting, a day bed and a large bathroom with a slate floor and shower the size of a small walk-in closet. Laurel had even taken the time to cut some fresh flowers and put them in a vase on the coffee table and scatter additional petals on the bed. Oh! She even had a bounty of fresh croissants, pain au chocolate, and a large French baguette (so much it lasted us almost 3 days!) on the counter just calling our names, accompanied by a big wedge of brie and pineapple juice in the fridge.
We got ourselves unpacked and settled, showered, and then stood in amazement of our surroundings for a few. With so little available for sustenance we ventured down to the “market” a short 5 minute walk down the way. It is just a very tiny grocery store with a very small selection of necessities from which to choose. Not quite knowing what we were going to need or prepare for ourselves, we wandered around trying to figure out what to do…….and how affordably to do it. Food is really bloody expensive here. Yikes! Adam, more than anything, just looked around like he was on Mars (not unlike he does when in the grocery store back home) while I pondered what might be good for us to have initially until we got the feel for life in Tahiti. We could always come back for more. It didn’t help that we were both truly exhausted and couldn’t really think straight at that point. But we managed with some crackers, fruit, eggs, salami, cheese, a bell pepper, peanuts and of course BEER! Hinano is the national beer of Tahitian, so of course we snagged a six pack of that to imbibe. Back to the bungalow!

By this time, it was lunch. Some brie and crackers and nibblies later and both of us could not keep our eyes open, even with the beach calling us just a short walk away. We both sacked out for a much needed 2 hours. Time for the beach!

Laurel had taken the time to walk us down the street to show us our beach access during our introduction. In Tahiti the beach is public, but the access is private as you have to enter through someone’s property, so you can’t simply walk through uninvited. The beaches in Hawaii are also public, and you do have to cross private property to get to them, but most places grant access without requiring permission. So we slathered on the sunscreen and got ourselves settled on the white sandy beach.
The beach in Tahiti is not like in Hawaii. It is very, very coarse being made up of a combination of sand and coral. In Hawaii the sand is much finer and feels good under foot. It is taking us a little getting used to walking on such coarse sand and making sure to avoid the frequent coral, shells and rocks along the way. But, Hawaii ain’t got nothin’ on Tahiti when it comes to the clarity and color of the water. Oh my! Even when you stir up the bottom the water stays perfectly clear. It is unreal.
We could not resist getting in the water almost immediately and just soaking up the warmth. The water is warmer than in Hawaii as well. We bought ourselves some snorkel equipment, and we both could not wait to put it on and try it out. With some adjustments we got the hang of it and were able to scoot around the coral labyrinth with all the colorful fish and some amazing aquatic oddities……….like sea slugs literally as big around as my calf and as long as my arm. Just enormous!

Adam, being more of the sunbather than I, headed back to his beach towel to soak up some rays while I kept on soaking up the underwater landscape. I must have been out there an hour at least! On my way back to shore, as I came around a big bank of coral, 3 huge sting rays floated about 10 feet ahead of me! Each was grey in color and probably a good 4 to 5 feet across. Cooooooooooooool!!!!! I kicked my little flippers to get on track with them but stay back far enough to avoid freaking them out. It was amazing swimming along with them just a few feet away. Suddenly a fourth one appeared, at least as big but black instead of grey! He came from a different direction and was heading directly towards me. We both paused………he looked at me, and I looked at him (from about 10 feet away), and he decided that I was not nearly as attractive as he, so he turned tail to catch up with his friends. I proceeded to follow behind at a distance until I was swimming along the shallows in front of Adam. I had to announce my excitement to him, of course. So I ended the chase and made my declaration from the water, which the two big Tahitian women floating in the distance thought was humorous. They kept looking at us and giggling to themselves most of the time we were on the beach. But we didn’t care because we are in Tahiti and the relaxation has begun!

More to come!

Tahiti - Day 1: The Flight

As most of you know we were WAY too excited to get our butts out the door and on the road to begin this adventure. Everything went off without a hitch. Except for my normal “fidgety” self (mostly out of anticipation), both Adam and I were relaxed and tried to enjoy everything around us including the rather short flight to Los Angeles. Adam set me up with the window seat, my typical preference, and himself in the middle. This turned out to be a rather good thing as the gentleman that sat next to Adam was a salesman (to the nth degree!) and yapped at us all the way down to southern California. Of course Adam took the brunt of it as he was in the middle, but he seemed to be enjoying the ear chewing and constant questioning from the guy. I, on the other hand, tuned out about half way through the flight as I got kind of sick of the name dropping and constant exaggeration about this guy’s adventures. As most of you know that is a real switch for the two of us. But overall the flight was nice, and although the companion we had in our row seemed to go on endlessly, he was a nice guy and still pleasant to have next to us.
We had a lot of time to kill at LAX after our 5:30pm arrival as our flight to Tahiti did not depart until 11:00pm. And since we could not connect our flights between carriers (Alaska to LA and Air Tahiti to Tahiti) we had to collect our bags and switch terminals, so that allowed us to kill a few minutes. I was only slightly concerned when we caught the LAX terminal transfer bus and realized the bus number was 666. Once I realized the Sandra Bullock was not driving and Keanu Reeves was nowhere in sight, I felt more at ease and the images of “Speed 3” faded away.
We walked through the International Terminal to get our barring straight for when we could actually check in (probably not until 8:00pm) we went and had some food and well deserved beer to help smooth out the nervous anticipation. The people-watching was awesome! Does anyone in LA wear anything but sweatpants?? Seriously. And the poor guy at the bar, once his head finally stopped falling in every direction like he was a bobble head doll, succumbed to sleep with his head completely fallen backwards and mouth agape (kind of like my Mom in the car most of the time), looked like a human Pez dispenser. I got a nice picture of that one. Oh, the pleasures we have at the expense of others. 
We finally got to check in and saw that a line had already started forming at the Air Tahiti counter. Bummer. But wait!!! We are in Business Class for this long flight! We gleefully bypassed all the suckers in coach waiting to check their bags and ushered ourselves right up to the counter! I tried to contain my smugness as much as possible, and I will admit it was a little tough. But we got ourselves all set and then made our way through security and ultimately to the Air Tahiti Lounge! Woo hoo!
Actually the lounge was a collective for all the international carriers, so there were quite a few people occupying the space, anxiously awaiting the call for their lengthy overseas flight. We of course did not care and felt as though we were a couple of kings at that point. Open bar! A couple of drinks, a few pictures, and several Facebook status updates and responses later our flight was called.

The gate was stuffed full with people! Of course the Airbus 340 is a huge plane, so that was no surprise. But we bypassed everyone and got ourselves settled at the front of the plane. We had nearly an hour before the flight was to actually depart, so that gave us ample time to sip champagne, get our necessities in order (books, iPod, etc.), have more champagne, take a couple of pictures, and check out the seat adjustment……….look! This adjusts back almost completely flat! Business Class is sweet! Oh, and we were handed a little flower by the flight attendant to that had such major fragrance to it. It turned out to be a Tiare……essentially the Tahitian Gardenia. They are everywhere. And, even if you can’t see them, you most certainly are made aware of their presence close by due to the delightful fragrance.
We back out away from the gate 15 minutes early and actually lifted off the runway right at 11:00pm. They don’t mess around! The flight attendants change clothes……as if it were the 2nd act of a performance or something and continued to attend to everyone’s needs.
Time for sleep! I made sure to have a Lunesta with me on the plane as I knew that sleep would not come otherwise and proceeded to snooze for a solid 5 hours. Are we there yet??????