Category Archives: ADVENTURES IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC

Our Top Food Experiences From Our Adventures

Our top food experiences from our adventures 2008-2015: Our most memorable meals from our travels around the world (so far).

10. The Winding Stair in Dublin, Ireland

Given that everything in Ireland is expensive, we couldn’t eat out at many upscale restaurants on our two-week trip. The Winding Stair was our one big splurge in Ireland, and it was worth it. It is located above an affiliated book store (one of the oldest independent book stores in Dublin) overlooking the River Liffey. It was cute, quiet, and romantic. The food is fresh, organic, and locally sourced.  If you’re in Dublin looking for a fantastic Irish meal with ambiance, this is a great little spot. Definitely one of our top food experiences in Ireland.

River Liffey, Dublin
River Liffey, Dublin
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Duck breast with fingerling potatoes at The Winding Stair
Winding Stair Dublin Ireland top food experiences
Pork loin at the winding stair

9. Kèköldi Indigenous family farm, Costa Rica

Our friends Sarah and Julio took us to a farm owned by the indigenous Kèköldi people near Cahuita, Costa Rica. Our host gave us a tour through the rain forest surrounding his home and told us about all the medicinal plants and foods found in the area that are used by his family. Afterward, we were served a typical lunch of chicken, plantains breadfruit, and sweet potatoes served in banana leaves, which are used as plates and bowls. The chicken was some of the best we’d ever had and it was a very interesting and educational day. If you are interested in taking this tour, you can book it through Sarah and Julio’s tour company, www.boyerotours.com.

Kekoldi indigenous tour costa rica top food experiences
Lunch at the Kèköldi farm: Chicken, breadfruit, plantains, and sweet potato
Kekoldi village costa rica top food experiences
Julio and our host at the Kèköldi farm, Costa Rica

8. Argentinian cooking at Tierras Del Sol, Tulum, Mexico

When we were in Tulum, Mexico in 2009, we stayed at a little place on the beach called Tierras Del Sol (unfortunately, it looks like it is now closed). The beach was the best we’ve ever seen in our travels to the tropics, and because it was the low season we usually had it all to ourselves.

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Tulum Beach

It was located at the very end of the Boca Paila Rd, about 12 miles from the center of town and we had no car. They served dinner and breakfast, and the manager/cook was from Argentina and cooked amazing food every night. It was pretty much the same menu: three salads, grilled vegetables, and then grilled meat or fish with an Argentinian marinade. We stayed for four nights, and ate three dinners there it was so good. Each night the grilled meat or fish was whatever looked fresh at the market that day. One night we ventured further down the road to a neighboring bungalow resort and ate at their restaurant, but the food was small, pretentious, and not nearly as good.

Simple and delicious, served with a side of peace and quiet, the warm sea air, and plenty of beer and margaritas. It was one of our top food experiences for sure.

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Top food experiences –Tierras Del Sol restaurant/lounge area

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Tulum-Mexico-top-food-experiences (12)

tulum-mexico top food experiences

7. Kuma’s Corner, Chicago

Paddy maintains that one of the best burgers he has ever had (perhaps THE best burger he has ever had) was at Kuma’s Corner while we were visiting a friend in Chicago in 2008. Located in the Avondale neighborhood, Kuma’s Corner is all about two things: amazing burgers and heavy metal. And burgers named after heavy metal. What more could you want?

It sounds gimmicky, but the real rock star here is the food. Most of the burgers are served on pretzel buns, and really are in a league of their own. If you go to Chicago, don’t miss Kuma’s.

Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
At Kuma’s Corner, Chicago
Kumas Corner Chicago top food experiences
The “Slayer” burger at Kuma’s Corner. Served with ANGER!

 

6. The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C. Canada

We spent a holiday weekend in Victoria BC in 2014, and we were surprised to find so much great food! It was tough to choose which one of our meals that weekend would wind up on our top food experiences list, but we decided it must be the Jam Cafe. We had pulled pork pancakes (large enough to feed a family of four) and the fried chicken benedict and shared. The bloody marys were also fabulous and are served with a piece of candied bacon and a seasoned salt rim. It was one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had, and worth the 20 minute wait in line.

A close second of our top food experiences in Victoria: Red Fish Blue Fish. It was almost a coin toss.

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The Jam Cafe, Victoria B.C.
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Bloody Mary at the Jam Cafe with candied bacon
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Pulled Pork pancakes with jalepeno sour cream and pickled cabbage
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Fried chicken benedict with roasted corn salsa

5. Atchafalaya, New Orleans

Atchafalaya New Orleans
Atchafalaya restaurant–brunch highly recommended!

We spent Halloween 2015 in New Orleans, which I’m sure you know is home to some pretty spectacular cuisine. The winner from this trip was definitely brunch at Atchafalaya in the Garden District. They had a delicious-looking breakfast cocktail list, but we couldn’t pass up the bloody mary bar where you can build your own bloody mary from two different types of mixes, and an array of hot sauces and house pickled veggies to go with it. The bartender gives you a glass with your choice of vodka and you make it however you want it.

Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar New Orleans
Atchafalaya bloody mary bar-green tomato bloody marys!

The breakfast menu made for a tough decision. I eventually decided on the duck hash with blackberries, mangos, duck confit, potatoes, hollandaise sauce, and bacon vinigarette. Paddy had the shrimp and cream cheese grits with smoked tomatoes and andouille sausage. Our friends tried the fried chicken and biscuits and gravy, the bananas foster french toast, and the truffled eggs with spinach. It was all amazing. They also serve dinner, and we will definitely be back on our next visit to NOLA.

Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya New Orleans
Chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy at Atchafalaya
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Duck confit hash at Atchafalaya in the Garden District
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya New Orleans
Shrimp with cream cheese grits at Actchafalaya

4. Chiky Blu Restaurant in Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

On our first night in the small beach town of Bayahibe, Dominican Republic, we ventured into a little unassuming open-air beach restaurant with reasonable prices and ordered up some dinner. I had no idea going in that I would have the best whole fried fish I’d ever had that I still think about to this day. It was simple, but full of flavor, and very crispy without any greasiness. It came with rosemary fried potatoes on a bed of lettuce with three tomato slices on top and a lime wedge.

Paddy had gnocchi which was also excellent. We went back for dinner again on our last night and had the pizza which was also good, but I still think about that fried fish. I haven’t had one live up to that one since.

Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blue Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Chiky Blu Bayahibe, Dominican Republic
Fried fish chiky blu bayahibe
Best fried fish I’ve ever had at Chiky Blu

3. Hotel La Pirogue, Taha’a, French Polynesia

We spent our honeymoon in French Polynesia, traveling to Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. On Taha’a we stayed on a remote motu island off the coast of the main island of Taha’a at a little resort called Hotel La Pirogue. It was completely remote, so we did the breakfast and dinner meal plan. Breakfast was standard European continental style, with muesli, yogurt, fruit, and baguettes with cheese and ham cold cuts.

hotel la pirogue tahaa
View from our bungalow porch at Hotel La Pirogue on the Taha’a motu

Dinner, however was unexpectedly some of the best food we’ve ever had. The little resort was owned by a French couple who were very welcoming. The husband was an outstanding chef and cooked dinner for the guests while his wife waited tables. We could choose a starter, main course and dessert for dinner each night.

The fusion of French cuisine with local Polynesian ingredients like vanilla, breadfruit, spices, and local fish, and shellfish was innovative and unique. It was some of the best food we’ve ever had.

We spent our days reading books, swimming in the beach in front of our bungalow, kayaking around the lagoon, and day touring the island of Taha’a. At night we would stuff ourselves silly at the restaurant and waddle back to our bungalow to sit on our porch and drink wine in the moonlight. It was a great four days.

Coconut curry shrimp
Coconut curry shrimp
Duck breast
Duck breast
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Grilled shrimp at Hotel La Pirogue
Seared Ahi tuna
Seared Ahi tuna
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue
Rack of lamb at Hotel La Pirogue

 

 2. Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

While in Reykjavik, Iceland in 2015, we had made reservations far in advance for Dill, which is arguably the best upscale dining restaurant in Iceland. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason takes Nordic cuisine to new and innovative levels, using local ingredients–much along the lines of the world-renowned restaurant Noma in Denmark.

Iceland-Dill
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland 107

Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
top food experiences –Dill Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland

We may not ever be able to afford Noma ($300 per person for a seven course meal), but we were able to make room in our budget for Dill (much more reasonable at just under $100 per person for a seven course meal). Don’t get me wrong, it was really expensive, but worth it. In this culinary realm, food begins to cross from sustenance to art, bringing new flavors and textures and ideas to the dining experience that have not been done before.

Wine pairings with all seven courses were also offered at an additional $100 per person, but we stuck with one glass of champagne and one glass of red wine each. Our bill at the end was $250, which was slightly less than we had budgeted.

The meal came with four small amuse bouche starters and house-made sourdough rolls. It was a two-hour ordeal, and the most high-end culinary experience we’ve ever had. I hate rutabagas, and the rutabaga course with cream cheese foam, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet was so delicious I almost licked the plate.

Dill Menu
Dill Menu
salt cod course dill restaurant reykjavik
Salt cod course
scallop tartare dill restaurant reykjavik
Scallop tartare course
Iceland-Dill-Restaurant
Pork belly course with kale and black garlic
Dill-Restaurant
Rutabaga course with cream cheese, sweet and sour dill oil, and toasted millet
Dill-Restaurant-2
Icelandic Skyr with celery sorbet and roasted oats

Nothing could really top that dining experience in Iceland, but I will give the lobster soup at Salthusid Restaurant in Grindavik a second prize.

 

1. Farm Pu Nim (Softshell Crab Farm) in Chanthaburi, Thailand

I don’t know where this is or how you get to it, but try to find out if you find yourself in the Chanthaburi province of Thailand. Farm Pu Nim (translates to “softshell crab farm”) was host to the number one of all our top food experiences in our travels to date.

We were visiting a Thai friend of mine and her family in Chanthaburi, Thailand, and they wanted to take us to lunch here. We drove a little ways outside of Chanthaburi town, and then parked and got in a small boat ferrying customers to the restaurant.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
top food experiences –Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

It was busy with Thai tourists and locals (no westerners that I saw), and our friend said it is somewhere that they take visitors or go to on special occasions. They ordered a bunch of dishes for us all to share.

The restaurant kitchen was visible from the path to the bathroom, and was totally chaotic. Piles of sea shells, plastic tubs, and tanks of fish and crabs were everywhere.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
The kitchen–Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Our food arrived in courses, and it was a seafood feast. The food was amazing, and there was so much that we couldn’t finish it all. Oysters, shrimp, squid, a spicy fish soup, fried soft shell crab, soft shell crab in curry, and a whole fried fish with garlic. We’d never seen such a spread.

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
fried soft shell crab

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand
Shellfish Farm in Chanthaburi Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand

Soft Shell Crab Farm restaurant in Chanthaburi, Thailand
Oysters

We squabbled over the bill at the end– we insisted on paying as they were taking us around Chanthaburi and being fabulous hosts, and after some arguing we were allowed to pay. For seven people (albeit two were small children), the total for all that food and a couple beers was $45.

A large part of what makes this number one of our top food experiences was the amazing food, but another part was being able to share in something uniquely Thai that our friends wanted to share with us. We would have never found that place on our own, and being able to share it with a long lost friend from my exchange student days and her family was very special.

 

Food is a huge part of our travels, and we hope to add many more meals to this list in the future. A meal doesn’t have to be expensive to be amazing, it just needs to be made with love and either talent or a good recipe. Stay tuned for more of our top food experiences in the future.

Our Most Romantic Getaways

Our most romantic getaways: In honor of Valentine’s Day we’d like to share our most romantic trips, and what we think makes a great couples’ getaway

 

I’ll try to keep the cheese-factor to a minimum on this post. But Valentine’s Day is this week, and I thought I’d share our most romantic vacations and what made them romantic. Every couple needs getaways. A chance to leave your day-to-day life, have a new adventure together, and focus on quality time with each other without the stress and distractions of home and work. Here are our best romantic getaways to give you some ideas to plan yours:

1. Camping at Sol Duc, Olympic National Park

Camping at Sol Duc Campground Olympic National Park
Camping at Sol Duc Campground

So, this is our number one most romantic getaway because we got engaged on this trip. However, it was a really perfect romantic weekend in general and I couldn’t have asked for a better engagement.

Sol Duc is deep within Olympic National Park, many miles from any civilization of any kind. We got kind of a late start getting the ferry over there in the afternoon, and lucked out with one of the last open camp sites (the campground is first come, first served). We were originally there to celebrate our 7 year dating anniversary.

It was July, and the weather was perfect. We built a campfire, had hot dogs and baked beans and champagne for dinner.

romantic getaways Sol Duc Campground Olympic National Park
Paddy getting the campfire going
romantic getaways camping with champagne
Popping open the champagne and plastic coffee mugs

The next day we hiked Sol Duc Falls and the appropriately titled “Lover’s Lane” trail through the rainforest. There were a lot of people at the falls, but we only saw one other couple the entire time we were on the 6 mile Lover’s Lane trail that looped back to the campground. It was a gorgeous hike, and so peaceful in the rainforest. We pretty much had the forest all to ourselves.

Sol Duc Falls Olympic National Park romantic getaways
Sol Duc Falls
Lover's Lane trail Olympic National Park romantic getaways
Lover’s Lane trail

When we got back to the campground, we relaxed in the tent awhile after the long hike and then made dinner again and sat around the campfire watching the stars. Paddy got down on one knee by the campfire and proposed with an Irish claddagh ring that he had spontaneously purchased at the Sol Duc gift shop the day before. It was a total surprise and one of the best days of my life.

Our gift shop engagement rings
Our gift shop engagement rings

Aside from our engagement, what made this trip romantic was the peacefulness of the forest and campground, being so far from civilization (aside from the nearby campground store and Sol Duc Hot Springs cabin resort), and spending some alone time hiking in the rainforest with barely anyone else around. We are considering going back for our 5 year wedding anniversary this summer.

**Note: Sol Duc is first come-first served and very popular in the summer. On weekends in July and August arriving Thursday night or early Friday morning is recommended to get a camp spot. The ranger at the entrance station at the beginning of the road to Sol Duc can give you an idea of how many spots are left before you drive all the way down there. Rain gear highly recommended at any time of the year.

2. Our honeymoon in Tahiti and French Polynesia

Obviously, our honeymoon is going to be on this list. I have a couple more detailed posts about this trip if you are considering visiting French Polynesia, so I will keep this short.

Our honeymoon was full of adventure on the islands of Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. Of all the adventures we had, the most romantic were definitely the little beach bungalow on the tiny motu island off of Taha’a, and the overwater bungalow at the Intercontinental Resort in Bora Bora.

Tahiti Bora Bora honeymoon romantic getaways
On a boat outside the overwater bungalows at the Intercontinental Bora Bora. Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon
Snorkeling in Bora Bora honeymoon romantic getaways
Snorkeling in Bora Bora. Photo by Bora Bora photo lagoon
Our overwater bungalow at the Intercontinental Bora Bora honeymoon
Our overwater bungalow at the Intercontinental Bora Bora

While the overwater bungalow in Bora Bora was phenomenal and what we looked forward to the most while planning our honeymoon, I think that the romance factor was actually a bit higher in the tiny beach bungalow on the Taha’a motu. It was very secluded, with only (9?) bungalows, gourmet meals every night cooked by the French couple who owned the place, and a lovely European continental breakfast each morning. We read books, kayaked around the lagoon, swam in the lagoon right in front of our bungalow, took a tour to the main island of Taha’a for the day, and spent a good amount of time just sitting and watching the sea from our porch.

Remote motu beach Tahaa romantic getaways
Remote Robinson Crusoe experience on the Taha’a motu
honeymoon champagne Tahaa Tahiti romantic getaways
honeymoon champagne waiting for us on our porch at arrival
Our bungalow on the Tahaa motu Tahiti honeymoon romantic getaways
Our bungalow on the Taha’a motu
Our bungalow on the Taha'a motu Tahiti honeymoon romantic getaways
Our bungalow on the Taha’a motu
Tahiti honeymoon romantic getaways
Nothing to listen to at night but the lapping waves and the chirping geckos.

It was an amazing honeymoon, and we couldn’t have asked for anything better.

 

3. Tulum, Mexico

We spent a week in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico shortly after we got engaged in 2009. It was September, and scorching hot. We wouldn’t go back in September again. However, because it was the low season there were no crowds in Isla Mujeres (the island we spent three nights on), or in Tulum.

Tulum was the most romantic, for sure. We stayed in a tiny rustic bungalow that had no electricity in the day time, right on the best beach we’ve ever been to. The sand was like powdered sugar and the water was electric blue. No coral in the water made for soft sand and perfect swimming. The best part: most of the time we had this beach entirely to ourselves.

romantic getaways secluded Tulum beach Mexico
Tulum beach
romantic getaways secluded Tulum beach Mexico
Relaxing at Tulum Beach near our bungalow
romantic getaways secluded Tulum beach Mexico
Tulum Beach
Our bungalow on Tulum beach romantic getaways
Our bungalow on Tulum beach
romantic getaways secluded Tulum beach Mexico
Solitude in Tulum on an evening beach stroll

We ate dinner most nights at the little on-site restaurant, where the Argentinian owner cooked us whatever he got fresh that day. It was fantastic. We’ve been aching to go back, but it appears that this place is no longer in business. There are many other little places like it on Tulum Beach though, so I’m sure we’ll find somewhere else great. Someday, but not again in September.

 

4. Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach is one of our all-time favorite winter romantic getaways. We’ve never gone in the summer–high prices and kids and crowds keep us at bay. We’re a bit more into the woods and mountains and rainforest in the summer.

Aside from the stunningly beautiful beach, there are quite a few good restaurants and little shops all within walking distance of most hotels. Seaside is just a short drive away, as are other locations on the coast for day tripping.

romantic-getaways Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon
romantic-getaways Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, OR

Our favorite hotel is the Hallmark Inn, and our favorite room type is the Southwest View King with a fireplace and deck with a direct view of Haystack Rock. You can hear the ocean at night even with the deck door closed, staying cozy warm by the fireplace. There are other rooms available as well with views, some with jacuzzi tubs.

romantic-getaways Cannon Beach, Oregon
View from room, Cannon Beach, OR
romantic-getaways Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, OR
romantic-getaways Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, OR

Our favorite restaurant there for a nice, romantic gourmet meal is Newmans at 988. The food and service are phenomenal, and the restaurant is located in an old house. We’ve had a couple romantic getaways at Cannon Beach, it’s one of our all-time favorite spots.

 

I think that all of our getaways and adventures include “romance” but the above four are the top four romantic adventures in our memories. I think the ingredients to great romantic getaways are solitude/alone time, a beautiful natural setting, and an element of adventure. After 13 years together, we both believe that adventure and learning and growing together is one of the cornerstones of a great relationship. You don’t have to go to Morocco or spend a fortune to have an adventure together. Adventures could include a dance class, a great hike, or trying Ethiopian food for the first time. Take time away from daily life, make time for each other, and have some fun.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

How To Cut Costs On Your Trip To Tahiti and French Polynesia

How to travel to Tahiti and French Polynesia without having to sell a kidney to afford it: Ways to cut costs and maximize your travel budget.

French Polynesia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. You have probably seen photos of the infamous overwater bungalows of Bora Bora, Moorea, and Tahaa, along with crystal clear electric blue hued lagoons. It’s a popular spot for honeymooners, divers, and and adventure-seekers.

Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive places in the world. In a way, this is a good thing because it keeps tourism down to a minimum, preventing the islands and culture from being overrun by the obnoxious and polluting “Disneyland” that has overtaken places like Hawaii. Sadly, this means that only a handful of people without well-padded bank accounts get to visit.

If you enjoy a “Robinson Crusoe”, culture-rich tropical vacation, there is a way. It will still be expensive, but it’s do-able. We went for our honeymoon and went into quite a bit of debt, which we were able to pay off eventually. I wouldn’t recommend this, but we were determined and diligent about paying it off, and don’t regret it. We learned a lot of ways to save money on the trip, which helped us tremendously. We also know a bit more now about how to do an even less-expensive and more culturally focused French Polynesia vacation for the future. Our 10 year wedding anniversary, perhaps?

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti
Mountain view in Tahiti’s island interior

Here are our tips for saving money:

1. Go with a Tahiti specializing travel agency.

Travel agencies specializing in Tahiti and French Polynesia book trips in bulk and get bigger discounts for you than if you were to book on your own. We worked with Tahiti Legends, an agency based out of California. All my correspondence was done online via email with an agent. I had already picked out where we wanted to stay from extensive research on Tripadvisor and some guidebooks, so I told her what dates we could go, where we wanted to stay, and she quoted us an itinerary that included everything but airfare including all transportation and tours. I have also read good things about EasyTahiti.com, a Tahiti-based travel agent. Costco Travel also has good deals sometimes.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti

2. Bring EVERYTHING with you.

Not to be redundant, but Tahiti is ridiculously expensive. A bottle of sunscreen costs $30.00 and a six pack of local Hinano tall beers at the store costs $18.00. Bring all sunscreen you think you may need (don’t be a dumbass, pack a lot and use it), bug spray, toiletries– everything. Don’t plan on buying anything other than meals and souvenirs. If you drink alcohol, you will be shocked and appalled at the $20 cocktail prices at the resorts. Liquor is really expensive in Tahiti and all has to be imported. The saving grace here though is that you can bring your own. Tahitian customs will allow up to two liters of booze (wine or hard liquor) per person. We packed a fifth of tequila, a fifth of vodka, and boxed wine. We actually packed a little more wine than was allowed….they didn’t seem too interested in checking at customs. It was all box wine too, which may show up looking like something else in the airport scanners. Or not. I don’t know. We got away with it.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti
$8.00 Hinano and a $15.00 rum cocktail at the swim up bar at The Intercontinental Tahiti

 

3. Bring food

Bring crackers, cans of tuna, jerky, nuts, any sealed non-perishable snacks that you could make a picnic with for lunches. Since this is French Polynesia, baguettes and cheese, pates, deli meats and fruit are all available and not too expensive in local grocery stores (still more expensive than the US) and can be added to what you brought for a nice beach picnic lunch. See if you can get your travel agent to work free breakfast into all your lodging, or at least add it in at a discount. The breakfast buffet price posted at the resort in Bora Bora was $40.00 a person–I kid you not. I think our agent worked it in for free because we stayed over 4 nights. That way, you just have to worry about dropping the dough on dinners.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti
Local convenience store/market on Bora Bora where we bought inexpensive baguettes, French wine, cheese, pate, and fruit

 

4. Find out where the locals eat

Locals often frequent small burger joints and cafes called “snacks” or food trucks called “roulottes.”  We ate at a couple of these close to our resort on Bora Bora, and at the roulottes in Papeete (kind of like a food truck round-up) Have dinner there a couple nights. The food is good and the price is going to be a lot cheaper than the resort and tourist restaurants. Also, try to avoid eating dinner at your resort. Their prices are atrocious and you will get a more cultured experience (and most likely better food) by venturing out into the island.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Roulottes (food trucks) in Papeete at night
How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Delicious “poisson cru” in downtown Papeete. So much better than the resort versions.

5. Go in the off season

We went in summer, which is winter in the southern hemisphere and the dry season for French Polynesia. The weather is better then and not as hot. However, if you don’t mind heat and some rain, the prices are much better in the northern winter time.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
A little rain ain’t so bad…in the tropics it often rains only for a couple hours at a time.

 

6. Skip the mega resorts

Because it was our honeymoon and I was determined to stay in an overwater bungalow at least a few nights, we didn’t do this. There are small family-run pensions and hotels that cost much less than the resorts. Speaking French helps with the small family pensions though, as many of them don’t speak English. I would love to visit Tahiti again in the future, but have more of a small pension cultural experience next time. We’ve done the overwater bungalow, it was amazing, but we probably won’t drop that kind of money on it again. This was also the trip that we realized that we just really aren’t resort people.

 How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Our overwater bungalow was amazing, but this little beach bungalow at a small pension was one of the highlights of our trip

 

7. If you do stay at resorts, see about discounts for booking with the same resort brand for each island.

Our travel agent got us a bigger discount for staying at Intercontinental resorts on both Tahiti and Bora Bora. On Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, (the three most popular islands), big name resort companies like Sofitel, Intercontinental, Hilton, St. Regis, etc. have multiple locations. If you book with more than one of their resorts, they will often give you a better rate. Ask your travel agent to see what he or she can do for you.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Intercontinental Bora Bora
How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Intercontinental Tahiti

 

8. Visit only 2-3 islands, and islands in the same archipelago.

The more islands you visit, the more inter-island airfare tickets you will need to buy. The flights are short, but they aren’t cheap. The three archipelagos of French Polynesia are the Tahitian Archipelago (Society Islands), the Tuamotus, and the Marquesas. If you stay within one of them to island hop, it will be more cost effective than trying to fly between two or three. To visit any of them, you’ll need to fly to Tahiti first, regardless.

The Marquesas are the most remote and have the most well-preserved Polynesian culture, with beautiful mountains but few beaches, the Society Islands include the most popular destinations such as Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahaa, and Tahiti, and the biggest resorts. The Tuamotus are smaller and more remote and include world-class diving locations such as Rangiroa’s Blue Lagoon. Do some research and figure out what is most important to you to see and narrow it down from there. Tahiti and Moorea together would be an inexpensive option as they are so close. Moorea even has a ferry from Papeete. You can find many package deals for Tahiti and Moorea together.

How to cut costs on your trip to Tahiti and French Polynesia
Map of French Polynesia

 

9. You don’t have to tip

What…..? I know. It’s weird. And it feels so wrong. But French Polynesia is a province of France, and tipping isn’t part of the culture. Tax is also included in the prices most of the time. This makes the restaurant and bar prices a little less painful. $8.00 for a beer at the resort bar? Think of it as a $7.00 beer back home with the $1.00 tip. Still expensive, but it makes it a bit more bearable. Restaurant menu prices are what you see is what you get, so you don’t have to worry about all the tax and tip costs at the end.

 

On our next trip to French Polynesia, we’d like to get a bit further away from the resorts and mass tourism and see more of the culture. Rangiroa, Huahine, and the Marquesas are all at the top of our list. We’d also like to spend some more time on Tahiti and in Papeete. For details on our trip, check out our post on our Honeymoon in French Polynesia.

Snorkeling Tips for Beginners

Snorkeling Tips for Beginners: A few things we’ve learned about underwater adventures on our travels to the tropics

If you can swim, you can snorkel. It’s pretty easy, and it’s one of my number one favorite activities when we travel to the tropics. We’ve snorkeled in Hawaii, Tahiti, Costa Rica, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Thailand. Each experience was different, and we learned some things. I lived on Oahu, Hawaii for a year in college, and snorkeled quite a bit. Here are some snorkeling tips from our experiences:

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Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon

1. It’s okay to totally freak out the first time.

It’s okay. I did too. Those fish swimming around you aren’t minnows, some might be closer to the size of cats. And what is that thing down there?! With the…..things? It’s not our world. My first time was at Hanauama Bay on Oahu back in 2001. I’d just moved to Oahu, rented my snorkel mask and fins from “Snorkel Bob” on the beach, waded  into the water and stuck my face in. A giant  parrot fish swam right by my nose and I freaked out and ran back to the beach. I calmed down for a few, gazed out at the sea of snorkelers splashing around in the bay, and went back out there. After an hour, I had decided that snorkeling was my favorite thing in the world. My roommate that year had the same reaction. She was from Missouri, and I took her back to Hanauma Bay a couple weeks later and she panicked. It took her longer to get back in the water, but she did, and she didn’t regret it.

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Me, age 20. Snorkeling in Hawaii 2001
snorkeling tips for beginners
Taha’a coral gardens, French Polynesia 2010

 2. Get the “dry” masks.

If you have a choice, spend the extra money on a dry or semi-dry snorkel. A standard traditional snorkel has an open ended tube, which means that if a wave crashes over your tube or you dive down below the surface, you have to blow a big mouthful of sea water out the snorkel.

Traditional snorkel with open top
Traditional snorkel with open top

After many snorkel experiences with these tubes (if you’re traveling and going on a snorkel tour or renting them, most of the time that is what you’ll get) we were sick of mouthfuls of seawater. So we invested in our own snorkel gear including semi-dry snorkel masks.

Dry and semi-dry snorkel masks aren’t exactly completely “dry,” as you have to be able to breathe, but they have a covered top with air vents that prevent large amounts of water from going down the tube. Trust us, it’s way better.

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semi-dry-snorkel

3. It’s impossible to walk in flippers.

If you’re venturing out into the water from the beach, wait to get into the water to put your flippers on if you can. They turn you into a fish, and moving about on land becomes really awkward.

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My friend Keith at Hanauama Bay, 2002

4. To keep water out of your mask, make sure no hair is under the mask.

My biggest pet peeve while snorkeling is water in my goggles. Leaks tend to happen, as the human face has all kinds of curves and muscles causing it to move. You can keep this down to a minimum though by making sure all your hair is out from under the goggle edge, which compromises the seal. Another snorkeling tip for a tight mask–once you have all your hair out of the way and the mask on tight, take a breath through your nose to suction the mask further onto your face.

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Snorkeling in Bora Bora, photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon
Snorkeling in Bora Bora

5. To keep your mask from fogging, spit in it.

We don’t know why it works, it just does. Spit in the lenses, rub it round, rinse, and you’re good to go.

6. If you don’t see any coral, you’re not going to see any fish.

Fish eat coral, and plants and organisms that live on coral. If you are attempting to snorkel at a beautful sandy beach with no coral in the water, you won’t see much.

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Taha’a coral gardens, French Polynesia 2010
snorkeling tips for beginners
Snorkeling in Costa Rica, 2008

7. Don’t stand on the coral.

Coral is fragile, and it grows at a slow rate of 5 to 25 millimeters per year. If coral is broken or damaged, it takes a very long time to regenerate. There are also organisms living on the coral that are an important food source for fish and other animals. Sometimes it can be hard to avoid in shallow areas, but do your best not to touch or stand on coral. Some coral can also be very sharp, and will cause cuts and scratches if you bump up against it.

Brain coral in Costa Rica, 2008
Brain coral in Costa Rica, 2008
Costa Rica 2008
Costa Rica 2008
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Bora Bora, 2010. Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon

8. Don’t touch anything or pick anything up

Don’t displace something from it’s home. You don’t want to harm anything, and you don’t want anything to harm you. There are many dangerous creatures in the ocean, and if left to themselves, they generally won’t hurt you. Spiny sea urchins, lion fish, stone fish, etc all have powerful and painful stingers. Don’t let that scare you though, you’ll be fine if you keep your hands and feet to yourself. If you have a tour guide, he or she may show something to you, but they are knowledgeable of the area and it’s creatures. Most (hopefully most) snorkel guides have respect for the ocean and it’s inhabitants, and know what they shouldn’t touch.

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Our guide in Costa Rica with a hermit crab

9. Snorkeling is better in deeper water.

The best snorkeling experiences we have both had were boat tours where we were in deeper water, about 6-10 ft or so. This keeps you further away from the coral and the animals, so you don’t have to worry about stepping on anything or being knocked into the coral by a big wave. You are a bit further away from everything, but it’s a nice peacful view of the busy coral garden below.

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Thailand 2014
Snorkeling tips for beginners
Snorkeling with reef sharks in Bora Bora 2010
snorkeling tips for beginners
Costa Rica snorkel tour 2008

10. Disposable underwater cameras are worthless.

Back in the day, disposable 35mm film cameras were your only option of taking a photo underwater. Unfortunately, like every disposable film camera, they take terrible photos. They also create lots of waste and are not the best for the environment. These days, technology keeps advancing and now you can buy a relatively inexpensive waterproof digital camera. I have a Kodak Easyshare Sport camera that cost around $60 and takes pretty decent underwater photos. Previously, I had a waterproof camera pouch that I could seal my regular camera up in and use the controls through the clear vinyl. It worked great for several years…until it didn’t. Fortunately it was an old camera that got ruined while snorkeling in the Dominican Republic. I like having a camera that is made to be waterproof a lot better, it keeps the mind at ease and it’s easier to use.

Bad disposable camera photo, Hawaii 2007
Bad disposable camera photo, Hawaii 2007
snorkeling tips for beginners
The only somewhat clear photo we took with a disposable camera in Hawaii

11. If you run into trouble, stay calm

The three scariest things that can happen while snorkeling are being caught in a current, being stung by a jellyfish, and finding yourself in the company of a large shark. None of these have happened to me (knock on wood) but here are some snorkeling tips for if they do:

Of the three, seeing a large shark is the least common. Big sharks prefer deeper water and don’t tend to make it into coral reefs very often. You might see some smaller reef sharks, but they are generally harmless as long as you don’t provoke them. Don’t swim with an open cut or wear shiny bathing suits or flashy jewelry while snorkeling. If you do see a big shark, it will most likely not be interested in you unless you call attention to yourself. Don’t splash, scream, or freak out. Calmly swim back to the boat or beach from whence you came. Avoid snorkeling at dawn or dusk, or when the water is murky. Sharks rarely attack humans, and of the rare attacks that do happen, most are to surfers. It’s usually a case of mistaken identity, as their boards make them look like seals from below.

Getting caught in a current is probably the most common scary situation. If you find yourself caught in a strong current pulling you out to sea, do not try to swim straight back towards the beach. Swim diagonally towards the shore, which will keep you from fighting the current directly. Flippers help you swim faster as well.

Jellyfish happen, unfortunately. If you see one, there are most likely going to be more. If they are on the beach, they are definitely in the water. I will say that I have only seen a jellyfish while snorkeling once in all my snorkels. It was in Thailand, and about the size of a trash can lid. I quickly went the other direction and saw another one. Not wanting to chance it, we cut our snorkel trip short. It was a bummer, because the bay we were in was a great snorkel spot.

The good news is that some species are predictable with the moon patterns. Hawaii has a jellyfish calendar you can check out, and often there will be signs on the beach if they are bad. They typically come to the south shores of the Hawaiian islands eight days after the full moon, and are around for three days. Portuguese Man-O-Wars, however, have no schedule.

If you get stung, pull off any tentacle pieces stuck to the skin. Some say to use vinegar, some say to pee on it, and some say that soap and water are best. I’ve never been stung (knock on wood), so I can’t speak from experience which is best. If your beach has a lifeguard, he or she will usually have something for jellyfish.

12. Your waterproof sunscreen will cease to be waterproof.

No matter how high an SPF or how waterproof your sunscreen claims to be, it will eventually wash off in water. I’ve come back from many snorkel trips with a painful sunburn on my back, even with my SPF 50 Coppertone Waterbabies sunscreen. A great way to avoid this is to wear a rash guard while snorkeling. A rash guard is a water shirt that surfers often use for sun protection and to prevent a rash from their surfboards. Paddy never snorkels without one.

Giant clam, Taha'a coral gardens, French Polynesia
Giant clam, Taha’a coral gardens, French Polynesia
Sting rays in Bora Bora 2010
Sting rays in Bora Bora 2010
snorkeling tips for beginners
Photo by Bora Bora Photo Lagoon

Snorkeling is an amazing experience, and one of my favorite things to do. I’m a bit of a marine biology nerd, and I find all the creatures in the ocean very fascinating. Don’t be afraid, just get out there and get in the water. Hopefully our snorkeling tips will help you have a good experience.

 

 

French Polynesia 2010: Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora

Our Honeymoon in Tahiti 2010: Waterfalls and ancient ruins in Tahiti, a remote tiny island paradise and a vanilla plantation on Taha’a, and an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora

I spent a year in Hawaii in college, studying art and anthropology and learning about Pacific Island cultures. That’s where I first discovered Tahiti, and I was obsessed with going there someday and staying in one of those overwater bungalows. Once I saw how much they cost, I was sure I would never be able to live my dream.

Seven years later I got engaged to Paddy, and I decided that our honeymoon had to be Tahiti, there was no compromise about it. Tahiti is a place for honeymooners and if we had to spend the next two years paying it off, dammit–it would be worth it.

So we did. We registered at Honeyfund, a great website where you can turn your honeymoon into a wedding gift registry. Our friends and family were very generous and that helped a lot. The rest we split between three credit cards, as we had already spent all our money on the wedding. Now, I would never recommend going into debt over a vacation like we did, but it was the only way to have our dream honeymoon and we took a gamble. We were already used to scrimping and saving every penny all year for the wedding, not going out to eat, and not going on any weekend getaways. I figured we could do that again for another year or two. I was nervous about illness, job loss, or anything else that could screw up our fast pay-off plan. But we did it. We put every extra cent we had into paying that debt off for a year and a half and we did it. We don’t regret a thing.

If you’re planning a trip to French Polynesia, check out our money-saving tips

 

Which Islands?

Depending on how much time you have, you will need to narrow your island choices down to 2-3 islands. Most people just use the main island of Tahiti as a stopover and don’t spend much time there as it doesn’t have the beautiful lagoons and overwater bungalows like Bora Bora and the other islands. Bora Bora is the most popular island, followed by Moorea. I think there is quite a bit to see in Tahiti, but if all you are interested in is lagoons and overwater bungalows, you may want to spend less time on Tahiti.

At bit farther from the Tahiti archipelago are the Tuamotus, a geologically older group of islands that are much more remote. On this trip we chose Tahiti, Taha’a, and Bora Bora. If we go back, I think we’ll spend some more time on the main island of Tahiti, and I would also love to visit Huahine, Rangiroa, and Tikehau. If we head back to Tahiti, it will be much more off the beaten path. If you are into diving, Rangiroa is a world class diving destination.

Map of French Polynesia:

Fpolymap2

 

Click on any image below to enlarge

Day 1:

All flights to Tahiti leave from Los Angeles in the United States. The flight from LA is about 8.5 to 9 hours straight through. We flew out at night and arrived in Tahiti at 5:00 AM. We had arranged an early check in with our travel agent so that we could get to our room and rest right away. We stayed our first two nights at the Intercontinental Tahiti, which is located conveniently two miles from the airport. We exchanged cash at the currency exchange at the airport as I was told on tripadvisor that some debit cards don’t work at the ATMs. Our shuttle driver gave us a welcome lei and dropped us off at the resort. We got a welcome drink of juice, and were shown to our room, which was a “panoramic view” room. The sun wasn’t up yet, so all we could see from our deck were the glowing lights of the pool down below. We shut the blinds and crashed for the next couple hours.

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We woke up a few hours later and decided to get up and make the breakfast buffet. Today was Sunday, which was the biggest breakfast buffet of the week. We could eat the regular buffet, or pay an additional surcharge to eat off the special buffet as well. We went ahead and did the surcharge. There were oysters, fruit, brie, meats, eggs, cheeses, pigs feet, head cheese, fried potatoes, and other items. One of my favorites was a doughnut shaped coconut bread which was made from coconut milk and coconut flour. It appeared that a lot of locals come to the breakfast buffet on Sundays and to spend the day at the pool. When the breakfast buffet was about to close, some local guys were piling a giant amount of oysters onto their plates to get as much as they could.

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Above: View from our room

Below: Sunday breakfast buffet

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Honeymoon Photos 205

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Below: Deck in our room and our welcome leis

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Below: our wing of the resort

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Below: View of the main pool from the lobby deck

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After breakfast we spent the day at the pools and exploring the resort. They had a big central pool, and a more relaxed sand-bottom infinity pool with a swim up bar. The drinks were very expensive, but we had to have one each at the swim up bar just because.

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Sand bottom infinity pool

Swim up bar/pool at Intercontinental Tahitit

For lunch we ate some of our tuna and crackers and cookies that we brought from back home as a snack to tide us over for dinner.  In the evening, we went down for a drink at the Tiki Bar by the pool, then headed over to Le Lotus restaurant for dinner.

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Le Lotus was a fine dining restaurant in an overwater dining room right across from the building our room was in. The amuse bouche was some sort of seafood foam in a tiny cup. Not sure if we understood what we were eating, but it was good. I can’t remember what we had as a starter, but I remember having a swordfish dish with cuttlefish ink spaghetti. The prices were high, the portions were small, but the service was excellent and we were well aware of the high prices before we came. It was our first honeymoon dinner, and it was lovely.

 

Day 2:

The next morning we had booked a 4 wheel drive tour of Tahiti‘s interior. We ate at the breakfast buffet and were picked up by our tour guide early in the morning.

Tahiti is often associated with the lagoons and overwater bungalows of Bora Bora and other neighboring islands, but the main island of Tahiti is actually the youngest island in French Polynesia, and therefore has very little white sand lagoons and beaches. It is kind of like the Big Island of Hawaii, but with no active volcanoes. The Big Island has volcanic desert and white sand beaches on one side, and lush rainforest and black sand beaches on the other side. Tahiti has mostly undeveloped jungle interior and black sand and rocky beaches all around. Most visitors bypass Tahiti as a layover stop on the way to Bora Bora and Moorea, but I think Tahiti has a lot to offer and I would like to come back and see more. As it was, the Tahiti interior tour was very beautiful and reminiscent of what Hawaii may have been 100 years ago. Most of it is only accessible through four wheel drive vehicles.

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There was one other couple with us from Australia, and our guide drove us around deep into the middle of Tahiti, showing us waterfalls, jungle, and rivers. A delicious chicken lunch was included at Relais de la Maroto hotel, the only hotel in the Tahiti interior and is only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles.

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Relais de Maroto Hotel

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Tahiti (231)

After lunch, we saw some ruins of an ancient Tahitian village in the Papenoo Valley, which is now used as a camp where kids go to be taught about their heritage and the lives of their ancestors. Our guide told us all about the local plants in the area and what the lives of his ancestors were like.

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Tiki totems drying, painted by the kids at the camp

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I took some less-drowsy Dramamine before our tour and it seemed to help. I only began getting a little queasy towards the end but it wasn’t too bad. If you suffer from motion sickness, definitely take something at least 30-60 minutes before this tour. It is very bumpy.

That evening we ordered pizza and a burger from the room service menu, which was the cheapest dining option at the resort.

 

Day 3:

Aside from the island of Moorea, the closest island in the Tahiti archipelago which has a ferry, the only way to get between the islands is to fly. We checked out of our hotel and headed back to the airport to fly to our next destination, the island of Taha’a.

After a very short flight to Taha’a’s neighboring island Raiatea (there is no airport on Taha’a), we were met at the airport by a boat from our next hotel, Hotel La Pirogue on a tiny motu off the island of Taha’a. (I wasn’t able to find the website for this place online anymore, so I hope they are still in business, because it was an amazing place).

After a scenic boat ride, we were dropped off on the tiny motu island at Hotel La Pirogue, and greeted by the French owner with flower leis and a welcome drink of our choice. We were shown to bungalow #1, the closest one to the bar/restaurant/reception building. It was adorned with hibiscus flowers and a split of French champagne in ice on the front porch overlooking the beach with a view to the main island of Taha’a. There was a mini fridge, an electric hot water kettle with some Nescafe and tea and cups, and a small TV that had a handful of channels all in French. We didn’t bother with the TV.

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Video of property and bungalow:

Hotel La Pirogue, Taha'a

One of our biggest expenses here was bottled water. The tap water is not drinkable and the water was around $4.00 a bottle. There were two bottles provided for us by housekeeping each day, but the rest we had to pay for. While this was expensive, the owners have to purchase them as well from the mainland. Other than that, we had paid for a continental breakfast and full dinner meal plan so most of our food was included.

After we settled in, Paddy read for awhile while I went exploring the motu.

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There was a path through the palm trees past several houses that I assumed were where the owner and staff lived. It lead back to a rocky beach facing the ocean on the back of the small motu. After that I walked along the front beach line, passing one small cabin but the island was for the most part pretty deserted on the east side. The west side of the island past our hotel was all private property. It was very remote and peaceful.

As evening approached, we figured we should not let our champagne go to waste. We sat and watched the sunset.

Once the sun went down, we headed to the restaurant for dinner. The staff didn’t speak any English, so the wife/co-owner came over to help serve us. We appeared to be the only Americans, most of the other visitors were French or Italian. The husband/co-owner was our chef as well. At first the wife was a bit snooty with us, feeding the French stereotype–but after she saw that we were making every effort to decipher the menu with our Rick Steves French phrasebook/dictionary, she warmed up to us quite a bit.

The food at Hotel La Pirogue was some of the most amazing food we’ve ever had in our lives. Combining French cuisine with Polynesian cuisine turned out to be absolutely brilliant. While Tahiti is expensive, most of the food is worth the money in the right places. This was one of them. Having already added the price of dinner into our honeymoon package, it was nice to order whatever and not have to worry about price. Alcohol was not included though, so we ordered a carafe of the house wine each dinner, as that was the most economical option. Fruity cocktails and bottles of wine and of course Hinano beer were available as well.

Dinner each night included a starter, a main course, and a desert. It was always more than enough to eat, and we usually split a desert because we were too full to eat two of them.

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Dinner at Hotel La Pirogue
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Mahi mahi with vanilla sauce, rice, and leeks
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Filet mignon with leeks

 

Day 4:

The next day we woke up and went to breakfast at the same restaurant area. Breakfast was the same each morning, with a basket of baguettes, butter, jellies, ham slices, cheese, fruit, yogurt, and cereals as well as coffee, tea, and juice.

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Hotel La Pirogue breakfast

That day we didn’t do much. We just went swimming, read books, and were generally lazy. For lunch we splurged on a crab sandwich and french fries from the a la carte lunch menu in the bar. It was big enough to share and very good, although it was imitation crab. There are crabs all over the island, so the fact that the crab wasn’t real was a little odd.

The beach was somewhat free of coral, but there were many sharp rocks and shells and bits of coral so we wore water sandals when swimming. Also, there were many sea cucumbers littering the sea floor, which squished when stepped on and looked like big brown turds. We tried not to step on them as much as we could. Swimming was nice, with very little current and warm, clear water. We also explored more of the motu coastline farther up the beach from the resort. We found ourselves completely alone. It felt very much like being stranded on a desert island.

Dinner was excellent again.

Duck breast, Hotel La Pirogue Tahaa, Tahiti
Duck breast and rice, with vegetables steamed in a banana leaf
Prawns in a curry sauce at Hotel la Pirogue, Tahaa, Tahiti
Prawns in a curry sauce with rice and the same vegetables

Once again we waddled back over to our bungalow full and happy. We read books and spent some quality time with our gecko roommates.

Hotel La Pirogue bungalow, Tahaa, Tahiti

gecko in our bunaglow, Hotel La Pirogue, Tahaa, Tahiti

gecko in our bunaglow, Hotel La Pirogue, Tahaa, Tahiti

gecko in our bunaglow, Hotel La Pirogue, Tahaa, Tahiti

 

Day 5:

The next day we booked a day tour on Taha’a through Hotel La Pirogue. We rode across the water to the main island with a few other French and Italian guests, and then were split apart by language. We were the only English speakers, so we got our own private guide for the day.

Our first stop was an organic vanilla plantation, La Vallee de la Vanille. Taha’a is known as the vanilla island, as 80% of the vanilla in French Polynesia is grown here. Most of the farms are greenhouse farms, but this organic plantation owned by Moeata Hioe and her husband Danish expat Brian Hansen is one of the few left that grows vanilla the old fashioned way. Moeata spoke perfect English and gave us a tour of her family’s plantation, which has been in her family three generations. She seemed clearly in charge of the operation, and it was here that I began to realize how much equality and respect women have in Tahitian culture. In fact, in traditional Tahitian culture women were seen as so important to the family that if a couple did not have any daughters, they would select one of their sons to be raised as a woman. These transgendered children were called Rae Raes. Today, Rae Rae is the name for male to female transgendered Tahitians, and gay, lesbian, and transgendered people are all generally accepted by Tahitian society.

Raising vanilla beans is tedious work, especially organically. The vanilla plant is a member of the orchid family. There are no bees to pollinate the flowers, so Moeata and her family have to get up at 3:00 AM to go around and pollinate each flower with a toothpick. If they don’t do this before sunrise, the beans will not grow. Full grown beans are harvested, dried, and then separated by size for bundling and shipment.

While we were talking to Moeata, her husband Brian came by and she introduced us. She said he was from Scandinavia so I asked which country. It turned out he was from Denmark, where I had spent a year as a foreign exchange student. I began speaking to him in Danish and he was very surprised to hear his native tongue out of an American in Tahiti. After feeling like the stupid Americans who don’t speak French, it was nice to be able to prove that I had some bilingual capabilities….even if Danish is kind of one of the world’s most useless languages to know. I didn’t expect to be able to practice my Danish in Tahiti. More proof of what a small world it really is.

We purchased some vanilla and vanilla products from Moeata’s family in her small open-air store to take home. After that, we moved on to the pearl farm.

Black pearls are Tahiti’s number one export. The reason being that black pearls are only found in one species of oyster that only lives in French Polynesia.

The black pearls are very expensive. The pricing depends on the size, shape, and luster. I wanted a pearl to take home, but could only afford one individual pearl from the mis-shapen pearl bowl for $20.00. I really like the mis-shapen pearls, they seem so much more unique and natural to me. I still have it, and am trying to decide if I should get a piece of jewelry made from it or not.

After the pearl farm, we continued on towards the harbor to set out on a snorkel tour. I got a few shots of the island along the way.

We made a quick stop at a small store to get water. Paddy and our guide went in together, and I stayed in the back of the truck. Our tour vehicle was just a small pick up truck with bench seats in it. As I waited alone, two Tahitian men approached me speaking French. I was wearing a halter top  and my first instinct as in many countries was to assume they were hassling me and to not engage them. They realized I didn’t speak French and attempted a few words in English. I quickly realized that they were very interested in my colorful koi fish tattoo on the back of my shoulder. Tattooing is a big part of Polynesian culture, but it is all done in black ink, no color. As I am the palest person ever, color shows up very brightly on my skin and I wonder if they had seen a tattoo like that before. They asked me how long it took, and were very friendly. Then they both lifted up their shirts to show me all of their Tahitian tattoos, of which there were many. I am kicking myself to this day that I didn’t ask them if I could take a photo. I felt silly for feeling threatened by them. That is another thing I love about Tahiti. Never once did I feel leered at or hassled by men like I would in Mexico or many other countries. Men seem to respect women here, and skimpy tops and clothing isn’t seen as sexually inviting, but just a normal way of dress in the warm tropical weather. All of the Tahitian people we talked to throughout our trip were extremely friendly and welcoming.

We headed to a small port to get our guide’s boat to go snorkeling. When we arrived at the port, he made a couple phone calls and explained that his boat wasn’t fixed yet, they were still waiting on a part to be shipped that hadn’t arrived on time. He had called a friend with a boat to come help.

Very soon a man wearing a loincloth and a straw hat in a plywood boat arrived and we set off towards a motu.

Snorkel tour, Tahaa, Tahiti
Heading to the coral gardens

On the way our guide played the ukulele and our driver sang along with him and blew his conch shell. We passed the fancy overwater bungalows of the Le Taha’a Resort, and arrived on a connecting part of the same motu that appeared to be the man’s property.

The property had many fruit trees, chickens, and small shacks. We borrowed some of his snorkel equipment that hung from the trees on the beach to snorkel in the coral garden. Our guide said the man who owned the property had been approached by the Le Taha’a resort many times with offers to buy his land, but he won’t sell. It became clear why Tahitians have faired so much better than the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians were pressured, duped, and lied to by the USA into selling their land. Once the money from the land sale was gone, they had nothing. Our friend in the loincloth seemed to understand this very well. Many native Hawaiians are now homeless, living in tent cities on beaches as low-income housing becomes more and more scarce. On his land he had plenty of area for farming, vegetables, and fruit trees, chickens, and all the fish he cold pull out of the ocean right in his backyard. His family probably worked or went to school on the main island during the day. Healthcare and schools are free for Tahitians and are funded by France. I hope he never sells his land, his life looks pretty great to me.

Tahaa, Tahiti
Motu property owned by our boat driver
Le Taha'a bungalows, Tahiti
The Le Taha’a bungalows seen from the property

Tahaa, Tahiti

We were shown the “starting point” for the coral garden. It was so shallow that we had to find a path through the coral instead of swimming over it. We were told to be careful of the spiny sea urchins living under the coral, as their spines cause a painful sting. Paddy was particularly freaked out by this. It was hard to make sure we could find a spot to stand in the sand when we needed to adjust our masks or look for each other, and bumping an ankle against a sea urchin was always a possibility. Halfway through, we got stuck and had to figure out a way around and over some coral, which was a pretty big challenge. Finally, we made it through, and Paddy was relieved. It was very stressful for him but I had to admit it was the best snorkeling experience ever for me. The water was so clear and the sea life and fish very abundant.

Snorkeling in Taha'a coral garden

Snorkeling in Taha'a coral garden 2

Day 6:

On our last day on the Taha’a motu, we decided to make use of the hotel’s free kayaks and explore the lagoon. It ended up being much harder than we thought it would be, as we had to fight against a current. We paddled down the west side of the motu in hopes of finding some more deserted beaches but instead found a lot of private property with signs posted in Tahitian–“tapu.” We saw a pair of sting rays swimming along near us, but they quickly darted away when we came closer.

After muscling against the current back to our bungalow, we spent the rest of the day reading, relaxing, and finishing off the rest of our box wine while watching the sunset. Dinner was amazing again.

Fresh caught prawns with tropical vegetable skewers
Fresh caught prawns with tropical vegetable skewers
Rack of lamb with tropical vegetable skewer
Rack of lamb with tropical vegetable skewer
Chocolate mousse
Chocolate mousse

 

 

Day 7:

After breakfast we were given shell leis by the hotel owner (flower leis are given to welcome, shell leis are given to say goodbye) and put on our boat transfer to the Raiatea airport. After a very short flight, we arrived in Bora Bora. Unfortunately, we found ourselves to be amongst a huge sea of Japanese tourists on a tour group. I think that three countries compete for the title of Worlds Worst Tourists, and the Americans and the Japanese are neck and neck, followed by the Germans. Bora Bora is the most popular island, so I suppose it made sense that we’d be woken out of our remote relaxing island haze upon arrival by masses of pushing and shoving clueless Japanese tourists.

We found our transfer boat to the Intercontinental Le Moana Resort, and sped off, dropping people off at various motu resorts along the way. Finally we arrived at the tip of the main island of Bora Bora, at Matira Point and were escorted to reception. We were given cold wash cloths and a welcome juice drink and seated in the lobby. A woman made it through the Japanese mass confusion and gave us a tour, and then escorted us to our overwater bungalow. At long last, the overwater bungalow I’d dreamed about was about to be ours for five whole nights.

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora, Tahiti
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora, Tahiti

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow
Our overwater bungalow
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow
Inside the overwater bungalow
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow
Inside the overwater bungalow
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow bathroom
Overwater bungalow bathroom
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow bathroom
Overwater bungalow bathroom
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow
View from our bedroom area
Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows
Our overwater bungalow

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalow deck
Overwater bungalow deck

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora overwater bungalows

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora lagoon Tahiti

We had a king sized bed, a TV and DVD player, mini fridge, large bathtub, shower, closet, safe, living area with a coffee table that opened so that we could feed the fish below, and a two level deck with lounge chairs and a ladder into the lagoon. We also had a small gift basket including a split of champagne for our honeymoon. It was so amazing it didn’t even seem real. We settled in and went for a swim.

One thing that was slightly less than ideal about the Le Moana is that it is very windy on that side of Matira Point. It was warm wind, so it wasn’t a huge deal.  The trashy paperback I was reading blew away on the last day–I set it open on the lounge chair and went inside for a moment and when I came back it was gone. I only had two pages left, too.  I guess I’ll never know how that story ends. It seemed windiest the day we arrived. The public beach is in walking distance from the resort on the other side of Matira Point and there was no wind there, so if you need a break from all the wind, that’s a good place to go. There was barely anyone there and it is just as sandy and beautiful as the resort beach.

We decided on the Intercontinental Le Moana vs. other resorts with overwater bungalows because of it’s location attached to the main island as opposed to a small motu offshore. In addition to the resort restaurants all being insanely expensive, we wanted the option to eat at a variety of local restaurants and have access to a store to pick up beer, wine, and snacks. There was a store less than a mile down the road that sold baguettes, pate, meats, cheeses, fruits, beer, wine, and other items. We picked up some beer and wine and food for lunches there so we didn’t have to spend a ton of money at the resort. It was still expensive though–as mentioned earlier a six pack of Hinano tall beers is $18.00. We were able to find decent and relatively inexpensive French wine at the store though. We made lunches out of baguettes, cheeses, pate, and fruits along with the snacks we brought ourselves.

Below: The Tiare market about a 10 minute walk from the Intercontinental Le Moana

Tiare Market Bora Bora Matira Point
Tiare Market Matira Point, Bora Bora

Overwater bungalows Bora Bora Tahiti

Overwater bungalow Bora Bora Tahiti

Overwater bungalows Bora Bora Tahiti

The day we arrived also happened to be Paddy’s birthday, and they were doing a seafood buffet and Tahitian dance show that night. The price was ridiculous at $100 per person, but we just decided to go for it. Paddy is pretty good at getting his money’s worth out of a good seafood buffet. The fish was very fresh and the dance show was great. The power went out for a little while (probably because of the strong wind that day), but the dancers made use of torches and drums and still put on a great show until the power came back on.

Tahitian dance show Bora Bora

Tahitian dance show Bora Bora

Tahitian dance show Bora Bora

Tahitian dance show Bora Bora

We spent the evening relaxing in our Bungalow watching season 2 of True Blood on DVD that we’d brought with us.

 

Day 8:

The next morning we went to the breakfast buffet, which was full of pushy Japanese tourists as expected. We returned to our bungalow to a disturbing amount of birds lined up in creepy little rows, only on the bungalow next to ours.

Birds at Intercontinental Le Moana overwater bungalows

Birds at Intercontinental Le Moana overwater bungalows

Birds at Intercontinental Le Moana overwater bungalows

We spent the day visiting the public beach (Matira Beach) and enjoying the resort. We had an obligatory drink at the resort pool. It was a $18.00 cocktail and an $8.00 beer, so we just had one each.

Matira Beach Bora Bora Tahiti
Matira Beach

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora Tahiti

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora Tahiti

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora Tahiti

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora Tahiti

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora Tahiti

Intercontinental Le Moana Bora Bora Tahiti

After that, we spent the rest of the time snorkeling around our bungalow and relaxing. There wasn’t much coral in the  lagoon to see, but the sudden drop off causing a dramatic color change from pale blue to dark blue clear water was very interesting to snorkel over. It felt a little like flying.

Our bungalow neighbors were a Japanese couple. They had all kinds of water camera gear, with little cutesy charms hanging off of it. They both wore long sleeve rash guards to protect from all sun exposure, and even though they had all kinds of cool tech gear to take photos and movies while snorkeling, they wouldn’t leave a five foot radius around their bungalow. As we were out snorkeling in the lagoon, I looked back at their bungalow and in the window of their bedroom were a row of about 10 stuffed animals all staring out at me. It was kind of creepy. They didn’t have any kids, and the woman had actually packed all those stuffed animals in her suitcase and then arranged them in their bungalow so that they could look out at the lagoon all day.  There are some things about Japanese culture that I may never fully understand.

While we were snorkeling we had an hour long rainstorm which was kind of fun. It was weird to be in the water in pouring rain and be completely warm. It went away after a little bit and the sun came back out.

That evening for dinner we went to La Bounty restaurant, which was about a mile down the road from the resort and we could walk there easily. This ended up being our favorite meal on Bora Bora. It was all open air and it seemed to be popular with French expats. There were a lot of stray cats around that would wander in and out of the restaurant. We had a carafe of the house wine, and an appetizer of tuna tartare three ways: traditional French, Japanese style sashimi, and Tahitian style poisson cru. It was excellent. Poisson cru is kind of the Tahitian national dish. It consists of raw tuna, coconut milk, lime juice, carrots, cucumbers, and onions all mixed together. The lime juice par cooks the tuna. It’s eaten as a snack all times of the day, and is served from roulottes (food trucks) or local “snacks” late at night as well. For entrees Paddy had a steak dish with fois gras and I had a duck breast with fois gras.

After dinner we went back to the bungalow and watched movies we brought and enjoyed the complimentary honeymoon champagne.

 

Day 9:

The next morning we went on the quintessential Bora Bora tour: a shark and ray snorkel “safari.” We had this tour added into our honeymoon package, but you can always wait until you get there and book tours with the concierge as well.

We were picked up with several other tourists, including another couple on their honeymoon from the US. We got on a boat and drove around to some other motu resorts to pick up other guests. Then our guide took us out to the deep water of the lagoon, threw a bucket of fish parts in the water and told us to jump in.  The wife of the American couple who was along with us was too scared to get in the water, which was a shame, because it was quite an amazing experience. The sharks were black tip reef sharks, and only about three feet long. There were a lot of them, but they were all interested in the fish parts the guide threw in the water and didn’t pay too much attention to us. There aren’t as many big sharks near Tahiti lagoons because the bigger sharks don’t make it into the shallow lagoons from the outer reefs, they tend to stay out in the deeper waters.

Snorkeling with sharks in Bora Bora

After snorkeling with sharks, we went around to another part of the island in the shallow lagoon where there were a couple other tour boats and a lot of very large sting rays. I asked the guide if they ever sting anyone, and he said they never do. I think you would have to try to grab one or threaten it in some way. Still, it was a little unnerving seeing their long tails with the sharp stinger spike on the end swishing by our legs while we stood in the lagoon. Paddy had a fine time with the sharks but decided to stay in the boat most of the time for this part. As for me, this was one of the main highlights of our whole honeymoon. The rays were used to the guides bringing them fish, and would come up and jump up on you like dogs begging for food. Sometimes five of them would gang up on one person, which happened to me once. It was a little scary but totally fine. I was surprised at how intelligent they seemed.

Sting rays in Bora Bora

That night for dinner, we went to Bloody Mary’s. No trip to Bora Bora is complete without a dinner at Bloody Mary’s. We were given the option to add this dinner pre-paid into our trip package, and I’m glad we didn’t. The pre-paid package was twice as expensive as what we actually paid and didn’t even include alcohol. Bloody Mary’s is a couple miles from the Intercontinental, but if you make a reservation they send a complimentary taxi to come pick you up. We arrived a little earlier than our reservation and had a drink at the bar with another honeymooning couple from the US. Against one or two warnings on Tripadvisor, I ordered a bloody mary. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t the best, but it really wasn’t bad. It was also the cheapest cocktail I ordered in all of Tahiti at only $8.00.

The outer walls of Bloody Mary’s are full of celebrities’ names who have eaten there. The drill is this: You goo up to a table full of fresh fish just caught that day sitting on ice, and tell the woman at the table which one you want. They then cook it up for you with some side dishes and serve you at your table. One thing that kind of rubbed us the wrong way was that tipping is not part of French or Tahitian culture, but when we got our bill there was a tip line on the receipt (most machines have these) and a note requesting a tip for service. I think that because so many Americans come to this restaurant they decided to start asking for tips as an extra way to get money out of the tourists. We left 10%, but thought it a little cheesy considering the culture.

Overall, we kind of loved and hated this place at the same time. It was overpriced, but the food was good. The atmosphere was lovely: romantic lighting, sand floors, and polynesian decor. The bathroom was awesome, I had to take some pictures. The sink was a stone fountain that you pulled a ring hanging from the ceiling to use the water. However, it was the touristy version of Polynesia and not the authentic version. We’d go back, but probably more to have some drinks at the bar than to eat. I would recommend going there once on your trip though, it’s worth the experience.

 

Day 10:

The Intercontinental offered a shuttle to the main town on Bora Bora of Vaitape. I think it was about $11 per person round trip, and runs once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We went in the morning and walked around the town, which is pretty small but very nice and amazingly clean. The main grocery store on the island is in Vaitape, and you’ll find the best prices here on food, beer, and snacks. There are also several shops to browse. You really don’t need much more than an hour here.

That afternoon we had scheduled a pricey but worthwhile tour with Bora Bora Photo Lagoon. Damien is a French expat who runs these tours in his “Love Boat,” all while taking professional photos of you on the excursion. He takes you around the entire island of Bora Bora, making a few stops for photos on a friend’s private motu, snorkeling, and finally drinking champagne out of a coconut in the lagoon. He tells you all about the island, and at the end loads all the photos (about 300-400 of them) onto a disc for you to take home. This half day tour costs about $400, which was very expensive but considering the private tour and professional photos of us on our honeymoon to keep forever, it was worth it. Some of the poses he asks you to do are pretty cheesy, but just go with it. He takes so many photos that you can be assured he will get those five fantastic ones that are frame worthy. Damien was a great tour guide and a genuinely nice guy. I would recommend his tour highly.

Tahiti Bora Bora tour (234)

Tahiti Bora Bora tour (31)

That night for dinner we decided to save some money and eat at the local “snack” right across from the Intercontinental Le Moana. We got some burgers (fish and beef) and fries for about a total of $25-$30. They were really good.

Bora Bora burger shack

 

Day 11:

The next day was our last on Bora Bora. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the local beach and our bungalow. We had thought there wasn’t much snorkeling to be done around the bungalow as there wasn’t much coral. We had some extra crackers leftover from the snacks we had brought from home, and out of curiosity I crumbled one up and dropped it off the deck. I started a feeding frenzy. I grabbed a mask and snorkeled around the bungalow while Paddy crumbled more crackers to attract more fish. It ended up being pretty good snorkeling.

That afternoon we went back to the public beach (Matira Beach) and had some lunch at the small local Snack Matira. It was good and a really nice view of the beach.

For dinner we had made reservations at Kaina Hut, which had rave reviews on Tripadvisor. They are also far from the Intercontinental but offer a free pick up and drop off service with a dinner reservation. Maybe it was an “off” night, but this ended up being our least favorite dinner on Bora Bora. It was very expensive (expected), and the breadfruit gnocchi appetizer was alright. The atmosphere was nice, with sand floors and shells hanging from the ceiling. I had a seafood pot pie sort of dish, and Paddy had a steak. What ruined the meal for him was that he ordered it medium rare and it came well done. I wished he would have said something to the manager when it was served but he didn’t and it ended up ruining the whole meal. Many other people had a great dinner here but we wouldn’t go back.

Kaina Hut Bora Bora
Kaina Hut Bora Bora
Kaina Hut Bora Bora
Kaina Hut Bora Bora

 

Day 12:

The next morning we said goodbye to Bora Bora and flew back to Tahiti. I got some photos of the Bora Bora airport, which is located on a motu off the main island. It’s pretty hard to believe that you’re at the airport when you look around.

The flight to Tahiti had some pretty incredible views leaving Bora Bora as well:

We arrived back in Tahiti and went to stay one last night at the Intercontinental Tahiti again. We had booked their cheapest room, but were upgraded to a Panoramic view room on the ground floor, which was nice. We wanted to see some of Papeete (the capitol city) before we left, so we found the local bus stop across from the Intercontinental and took the bus into downtown Papeete, which was about a 15 minute ride.

We walked around and saw a bit of the market as it was closing, and poked around a few shops. We were hungry, so we found a cafe on the harbor and ordered up some poisson cru. It was the best poisson cru we had the whole trip. The resort poisson cru and the poisson cru at La Bounty didn’t even come close. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the place we ate.

After our snack and a couple beers, we walked around a little more and waited for the Roulottes to arrive in the square near the cruise ship port. Roulottes are Tahitian food trucks, and every night at 6:00 PM they arrive at the harbor and set up some open air restaurants. There is a lot of pizza and Chinese food, and prices are very affordable. We weren’t super hungry after the poisson cru snack but ordered some soup and noodles at a Chinese roulotte anyway. It was great. If we’d had more time in Papeete we would definitely be eating here. The square was mostly filled with locals eating with their families.

After that we went back to the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally a local told us that the bus stopped running at 6:00. He offered us a ride back to our hotel in the back of his truck, and he seemed really nice and genuine. We declined however, as you never know what someone’s intentions are with a tourist. We were able to flag a taxi and got back to the hotel. The Intercontinental bar was hopping with locals and a live local band. We went down and had a couple beers and watched the show, then went to bed to be ready for our early fight home the next day.

After two weeks, we were in love with French Polynesia but ready to go home. We were ready to go back to the world of affordable food and beer and not having to slather on the sunscreen all the time. We are hoping to return for our 10 year anniversary. If we go back we’d like to do a small pension/off the beaten path trip.

* Top islands on our list for our next trip to French Polynesia: More of Tahiti and Papeete, Huahine, Rangiroa, and Fakarava.